Skip to main content

EU must step up to the plate in its defence capabilities now America's focus is elsewhere

The House of Lords EU Committee has today called on the EU to improve its defence capabilities and ensure it can deploy a greater proportion of its armed forces when needed.  In their report the Committee stress that given the America's stated declaration that its defence priority is now the Asia-Pacific region and not Europe it is urgent that the EU gets its own house in order on defence capabilities. The Committee call this ‘America's wake-up call to Europe' and call on the EU to act.

The report calls on EU Member States to show a willingness and capability to organise themselves militarily and the political will to deploy troops if necessary. The Committee say that Member States should set out a strategic plan outlining what they are willing to do collectively and in what circumstances. They also say that the European Defence Agency should play a role in enabling the experiences of smaller alliances, such as the UK-French treaties, to be shared.

The Committee say that despite being Europe's economic powerhouse, and having a large defence budget in absolute terms, Germany does not pull it weight in military operations and must begin to engage to the same degree as the UK and France if the EU is to fulfil its potential on defence issues. The Committee recognise there are historical and cultural objections in Germany to playing a greater military role but argue these must be overcome if the EU is to have an ‘effective security and defence policy'.

The Committee considered the role of EU Battlegroups which were established in 2007 to ensure the EU would be able to deploy troops into action were necessary. Battlegroups are made up of 2 sets of 1,500 troops and are intended to be available to be deployed within 5 days. However today's report makes clear that since their creation Battlegroups have never been deployed. The Committee say that if needed in future Battlegroups should be  deployed when the right circumstances next arise.  Failure to do so would seriously weaken the credibility of the Common Security and Defence Policy . To ensure that they are ready they should be tested for preparedness as NATO troops are.  

The Committee considered the EU-NATO relationship and are clear that NATO remains the only defence community capable of the territorial defence of Europe and say that it is vital that US continues participate in that. The report makes clear that what is good for the EU is good for NATO and vice versa. However the Committee suggest that there are areas such as humanitarian missions, mixed civilian and military operations and peacekeeping where it is more appropriate for the EU to be able to act. In order to achieve this it is vital that these missions are properly resourced.

Commenting on the report, Lord Teverson said:

“America has made clear that Europe is no longer its key priority in terms of defence. As America looks elsewhere it is time the EU took up the challenge of ensuring Europe continues to be properly defended.

“If that is to be the case Germany, Europe's biggest economy and a key player in every other area of EU activity, must play a bigger role in European defence. It cannot be left to the UK and France to continue to carry the burden of European military capacity.

“If EU Member States are to act together to improve European defence capabilities there needs to be strategic plan set out between them as to when they will act in unison to deploy troops. Between them EU Member States have more military personnel than the US, what is lacking is the organisation to coordinate those troops and the political will to deploy them when needed.”

The report, European Defence Capabilities: lessons from the past, signposts for the future, is available on the Committee's webpage.

Subscribe to Lords newsletter

Sign up for the House of Lords newsletter for the latest news, debates and business

Latest tweets