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Transforming the security institutions of the European Union

A bureaucratic or a political task?

30.11.2006 · Position von Michael Bauer


The question raised in the title cannot be answered with a clear cut either ... or, rather - as it is often the case in research on the European Union - we are dealing with an as well as: the transformation of the security institutions of the EU is both a political task as well as a bureaucratic one. There are fields of action where the transformation is more a bureaucratic question, the reorganisation of existing institutions and mainstreaming ongoing programmes. In these cases a potential for self-organisation exists, though it needs a political mandate and the political backing of the Member States. In other fields of activity, however, many political questions which concern the transfer of power and the allocation of resources have to be answered before the whole undertaking becomes an issue of institutional adjustment or design. This kind of transformation process needs political management.

European Security Strategy

Looking at the overall development of the EU during the last few years, it can be argued that the Union has endorsed a holistic approach to security that makes use of military and civilian, long- and short-term measures alike. In this context can be perceived that the EU finds itself in a continuing process of refinement - refinement in terms of strategy, institutions and capabilities.

Agreement on the strategic principles of security policy, on a concept of security (David Baldwin) is a precondition for the establishment of a security identity, which seems to be the ultimate goal of the European Union and its Member States. The European Security Strategy of December 2003 has been a major achievement in this context. By and large the ESS fulfils the requirements of a grand strategy: It discusses the European security environment and the major threats to the security of the EU and its Member States; it reviews the options the EU has at hand to deal with these threats and broadly defines the course of action the EU wants to embark on; last but not least, it specifies the norms and rules that are intended to govern the security policy of the EU.

Three fields of activity

Using the five major threats of the ESS (regional conflicts, state failure, terrorism, organised crime and the proliferation of WMD) as a starting point, three fields of activity which are relevant for European security can be identified: (1) Structural Prevention; (2) Counterterrorism; (3) European Security and Defence Policy; given that the ESS is based on a comprehensive approach to security, naturally, these fields are linked to each other. Nonetheless it is possible to differentiate. The overview that follows will elaborate on the major developments in these three fields of activity.

1. The EU and structural prevention

Instruments for primary prevention

First of all, there is the broad field of structural or primary prevention. This means the prevention of state failure and weakness as well as regional conflicts by addressing what is usually called the root-causes of these conflicts, e.g. the absence of institutions capable of resolving conflicts peacefully, political instability, social exclusion, economic underdevelopment, environmental degradation etc. The EU is very good equipped to engage in this field of activity. Institutions are in place and programmes are running. For instance, the various cooperation programmes within the CFSP framework – most recently the European Neighbourhood Policy, development cooperation programmes as well as more targeted approaches such as the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) or the Every Thing but Arms Initiative.

Structural stability

All these instruments can be utilized for primary prevention. The decision to use them accordingly has been reached as early as in the mid-1990s, after the failure of the humanitarian intervention in Somalia and the genocide in Rwanda. Since than the provision of structural stability, a concept that gained renewed popularity a few years ago, has been an aim of these EU policies.

The Commission, which is in charge of managing most of the relevant instruments, developed strategy papers on conflict prevention and policy issues such as governance or environmental security as well as for the coordination of EU actions towards third countries and regions. Most recently, the integration of various programmes for the projection of stability into one Stability Instrument has been suggested.

Inter-institutional frictions

Over the past years, considerable progress has been made in mainstreaming conflict prevention in the long-term programmes of the EU. However, problems exist when it comes to linking these long-term efforts with short-term measures of crisis management. The Commission primarily deals with the former, while the latter fall within the responsibilities of the Council. Not surprisingly, frictions between the two institutions inhibit proper coordination; in part one might even speak of turf-wars.

2. The EU counterterrorism policy

Changes after 9/11

Secondly, there are the European activities in the field of counterterrorism. After 9/11 the EU endorsed a very encompassing and regularly updated Counter-Terrorist Action Plan, which includes measures in all three pillars of the EU: Training and coordination in the fields of civil protection and border security, diplomatic efforts to strengthen international agreements on countering terrorism and freezing financial resources of suspected terrorists, to name a few of them.

Legislative and institutional measures

The focal point of counterterrorism is, however, within the third pillar, Justice and Home Affairs. Legislative measures, such as the framework decisions on terrorism or on the European Arrest Warrant were taken. In addition to that, the institutional infrastructure of the EU was strengthened, i.e. through the working party on terrorism supporting the JHA Council. The cooperation between law enforcement agencies was facilitated among other things through the framework decision on joint investigation teams. The establishment of the so called Counter-Terrorist Group (CTG), which assembles the heads of the internal intelligence services of the EU Member States, Switzerland and Norway, strengthens cooperation between the intelligence services.

The Hague Programme, which was adopted in November 2004, entails further steps to facilitate cooperation and coordination in this field.

3. The European Security and Defence Policy


The third aspect of European security policy is the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) as part of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). It includes civilian and military means of crisis management, but also a possible engagement in military counter proliferation measures. In general, the second pillar is managed – a Brussels based intergovernmentalism as Jolyon Howorth has called it – high politics are involved, institutions need to be established as well as resources allocated. Hence political leadership is required, especially by the big EU Member States, which are the ones that have to provide most of the means for the ESDP.

Establishing institutions and capabilities

The ESDP is a very recent project of European integration, which was politically initiated in the late 1990s and then was formally established on European level through the European Councils in Cologne and Helsinki in 1999. Nonetheless the EU and the Member States have great ambitions as can be seen by the Petersberg tasks, especially the expanded Petersberg tasks (Article III-309 of the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe) as well as the already mentioned ESS.

The challenge, however, is to ensure that there are institutions in place that are able to make decisions, engage in planning activities, and coordinate and operate in a timely fashion. Moreover, the EU needs the capabilities to complete the tasks that are at hand.

ESDP committees

Hence, at the European Councils in Helsinki and Feira it was agreed to establish various new bodies within the institutional architecture of the EU:

  • Political and Security Committee (PSC) serves as the linchpin for the ESDP and the CFSP alike. In weekly meetings the PSC deals with all aspects of the CFSP, provides political guidance and supports the development of military capabilities. It exercises political control and strategic guidance in crisis management planning and operations. The PSC was even integrated into the Treaty of Nice in 2000.
  • The EU Military Committee (EUMC) is the highest military committee of the EU. It advises the PSC and guides the activities of the EU Military Staff.
  • The EU Military Staff (EUMS) is directly responsible to the High Representative and consists of 150 officers provided by the Member States. It is responsible for early warning, situation assessment and the strategic planning when it comes to the implementation of the Petersberg tasks. EUMS keeps close contact with national and multinational staffs, NATO, and the Situation Centre in the Council.
  • The EU Civilian Committee (CivCom) is responsible for the civilian aspects of crisis management.

In addition, through the principle of "enhanced cooperation" the Treaty of Nice introduced flexibility in the second pillar, however, this was limited to the non-military aspects of the CFSP.

The Report of the French Presidency on the European Security and Defence Policy provides a summary of the decisions on institutions and capabilities that had been established by 2000.

Helsinki and Feira Headline Goals

In Helsinki, the Member States agreed also to establish the European Rapid Reaction Force (ERRF) an intervention capacity of 60.000 troops deployable within 60 days and sustainable for up to one year, consisting of voluntary troop contributions of the EU Member States.

With regards to the civilian aspects of crisis management, the European Council in Feira established four priority areas for civilian aspects of crisis-management (policing, judicial reform, civil administration and protection) and decided to build up the appropriate capacities, among others 5000 police officers that have been operational by 2003.

Both headline goals were officially met; nonetheless, doubts were expressed with regards to the actual deployability and sustainability of these newly created capacities.

From quantity to quality

Obviously these doubts were shared by the Member States, which agreed on two new headline goals in 2004: The Headline Goal 2010 and the Civilian Headline Goal 2008.

Headline Goal 2010

Headline Goal 2010 includes the establishment of a European Defence Agency (EDA), which has the task to coordinate defence procurement and research and development activities of the Member States. In addition, it set up a civil-military cell within the EUMS. This cell is intended to facilitate the coordination of the civilian and military aspects of ESDP missions and ensure operational planning through support for the framework nation. Ultimately, the Civil-Military Cell shall be in a position to lead operations on its own. However, despite these plans it is very unlikely that the EU will be able to conduct operations without recourse to national headquarters or NATO in the near future. A third important aspect of the HG 2010 is the Battle Group Concept, which goes back to an initiative of the UK, Germany and France. Battle Groups are force packages of battalion-size (1500 troops) equipped with logistics and support, rapidly deployable and able to engage in robust action. They consist either of national or multinational forces of EU Member States and should be operational by 2007. Member States committed 13 Battle Groups at the Military Capability Commitment Conference in November 2004.

Important improvements

Obviously the HG 2010 is less ambitious in terms of available troops than the Helsinki Headline Goal. However, it seems to be more realistic as the Battle Group Concept focuses on actual deployability. Moreover, even though the EDA has only limited formal powers, the institution is in a good position to improve procurement coordination and exercise political pressure on the Member States to live up to the commitments they made on EU level as well as to continue with the modernization of their armed forces. Last but not least, the Civil-Military Cell might prove to be of major importance as the civil-military coordination is deemed a key element of successful crisis management. The cell has already played a role in the Security Sector Reform Mission in DR Congo, the Aceh Monitoring Mission as well as the EU Police Mission in Rafah.

Civilian HG 2008

Since the ESDP has become a topic of European Integration, focus rested on military capabilities. However, the EU made considerable progress in the field of civilian crisis management as well. The aims established in Feira were met and indeed the EU conducted a number of civilian crisis operations since, starting with the EU Police Mission in Bosnia in January 2003. According to the Civilian Commitment Conference of November 2004, the EU had at its disposal (voluntary commitments of the Member States) 5761 police officers, 631 personnel for rule of law missions, 565 for civilian administration and 4988 in the area of civil protection. It was argued, however, that the quantitative numbers were not matched by the qualitative requirements and did not say much about the actual deployability and suitability.

Therefore, the EU decided to exercise additional efforts in training and preparation of the personnel available for civilian missions and expanded the spectrum of tasks to include monitoring missions and the support of EU Special Representatives. All this was agreed upon in the Civilian Headline Goal 2008.

Focus on rapid reaction

In order to facilitate the mission build up, Civilian Response Teams (CRT) were established, which are ready for deployment within five days upon request by the Council, Secretary General or the PSC. They are sustainable for at least 3 months. It is envisaged to compose integrated civilian crisis-management capacities, which would make it possible to address the specific needs of a given crisis situation in a more targeted way than it has been possible so far.

As in the case of the HG 2010, the focus of the Civilian HG 2008 is on quality and actual deployability of the EU capacities.

An overview of the civilian as well as military ESDP mission and the development of the respective capabilities was provided by the report of the Austrian Presidency published in June 2006.

Treaty on the European Constitution

Another crucial document not only for the ESDP, but also for the Union in general is the Treaty on the European Constitution (TEC). The TEC would introduce a number of institutional reforms and changes in the legal basis of the CFSP as well as the ESDP.

First, there is the principle of Permanent Structured Cooperation that would allow Member States whose capabilities fulfill higher criteria to move forward in defence integration. These criteria are specified in the Protocol on permanent structured cooperation annexed to the TEC. Moreover, the Council could authorize a coalition of EU Member States to engage in the name of the EU in military operations (Art. I-41 (5) TEC). This would increase the legitimacy and the political weight of the intervening Member States and at the same time strengthen the profile of the EU as a security actor.

Strengthening the institutional structure

A major institutional reform would be the creation of a Union Minister of Foreign Affairs (Art. I-28 TEC) supported by a European External Action Service (Art. III-296 TEC). The Minister of Foreign Affairs is intended to integrate the post of the Commissioner for external relations and the High Representative for the CFSP. He would preside over the Foreign Affairs Council and serve as Vice President of the Commission. Moreover, he would be charged with the coordination of crisis-management operations. The Minister would be supported by the European External Action Service, which is intended to integrate the various institutions and bodies within the Commission and the Council that deal with foreign policy.

The establishment of a Union Minister of Foreign Affairs, seconded by an External Action Service could not only increase institutional coherence and visibility of the EU in international affairs, it might also help overcome frictions between Commission and Council.


Security policy is a rapidly evolving field of European Integration. The European Union's focused engagement in structural prevention dates back to the mid-1990s and is well established. The strategic, legislative and institutional efforts to bring into being a coordinated European counterterrorism policy have gained momentum after 9/11 and are still developing further. With regards to the ESDP considerable progress can be observed in terms of institutions and capabilities – most notably through the HG 2010 and the Civilian HG 2008, even though much remains to be done. Given the support of the European public for the CFSP and the ESDP, the prospects are good that the parts of the TEC that are dealing with external action will be implemented regardless of the fate of the TEC as a whole.

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