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In a challenging geopolitical environment, the EU cooperation on external security and defence will be strengthened.

The EU strengthens cooperation on security and defence

At the Bratislava Summit of September 2016, EU leaders decided to give new impetus to the European external security and defence by strengthening EU cooperation in this area. 

Delivering on this commitment, EU leaders adopted conclusions in December 2016:

  • endorsing the implementation plan on security and defence
  • welcoming the proposal by the European Commission of the European defence action plan
  • urging swift action to increase cooperation between the EU and NATO


Council establishes PESCO with 25 member states participating
EU-NATO cooperation: new set of proposals
First step towards the establishment of PESCO
European Council resumes discussions on PESCO
European Council calls for the launch of a permanent structured cooperation
See full timeline

Concrete actions to boost security and defence cooperation

In December 2016, the European Council endorsed the implementation plan on security and defence. The implementation plan sets the way ahead for the development of EU security and defence policy.

Building on the EU Global Strategy, the implementation plan focuses on three strategic priorities:

  • responding to external conflicts and crises
  • building the capacities of partners
  • protecting the EU and its citizens

Concrete actions to achieve these goals  include:

  • launching a coordinated annual review on defence (CARD) to enhance defence cooperation between member states
  • establishing a permanent structured cooperation (PESCO) to strengthen defence cooperation among those member states willing to go further in this cooperation
  • setting up a military planning and conduct capability (MPCC) to improve crisis management structures
  • strengthening the EU's rapid response toolbox, including the EU battlegroups and civilian capabilities

1. Coordinated annual review on defence

The coordinated annual review on defence (CARD) would provide a better overview at EU level of defence spending, national investment and research efforts.

The review would increase the transparency and political visibility of European defence capabilities. The benefits include:

  • better identification of shortfalls
  • deeper defence cooperation
  • better and more coherent approach to defence expenditure planning

2. Permanent structured cooperation 

The Lisbon Treaty provides that a group of member states can strengthen their cooperation in defence matters by setting up a permanent structured cooperation (PESCO).

On 22 June 2017, EU leaders agreed to launch a permanent structured cooperation in order to strengthen Europe's security and defence.

On 11 December 2017, the Council adopted a decision establishing PESCO. All EU member states are taking part in PESCO, except three countries (Denmark, Malta, and the United Kingdom).

Participating member states agreed on an initial list of 17 projects to be undertaken under PESCO. The projects cover areas such as:

  • training
  • capability development
  • operational readiness in the field of defence

These initial projects are expected to be formally adopted by the Council in early 2018.

3. Improved crisis management structures 

On 8 June 2017, the Council agreed to establish a military planning and conduct capability (MPCC) within the EU military staff.

The MPCC improves the EU's capacity to react in a faster, more effective and more coherent manner.

It is responsible, at the strategic level, for the operational planning and conduct of non-executive CSDP military missions. 

4. Reinforced EU rapid response toolbox

EU battlegroups are one of the tools at the EU's disposal that can be used to respond quickly to crises and conflicts. They are military forces that can be rapidly deployed on the ground.

The battlegroups were created in 2005, but they have never yet been deployed due to political, technical and financial obstacles.

In order to strengthen the EU's rapid response capabilities, EU leaders agreed on 22 June 2017 to bear the deployment of battlegroups as a common cost. The financing of battlegroups will be managed at EU level through the Athena mechanism on a permanent basis. 

The EU is also working to develop the civilian capabilities and enhance the responsiveness of civilian crisis management, including through the possible creation of a core responsiveness capacity. 

EU-NATO cooperation

Infographic - EU-NATO Joint Declaration: implementation

EU-NATO joint declaration infographic  See full infographic

On 8 July 2016, the EU and NATO signed a joint declaration to further strengthen their cooperation in seven strategic areas, namely:

  • hybrid threats
  • operational cooperation, including maritime issues
  • cyber security
  • defence capabilities
  • industry and research
  • coordinated exercises
  • capacity building

Afterwards, on 6 December 2016, the Council endorsed a common set of 42 proposals, which was also endorsed by NATO.

On 5 December 2017, the Council endorsed new proposals for concrete actions in areas such as:

  • counter-terrorism
  • women
  • peace and security
  • military mobility

European defence action plan

With €203 billion spent on defence in 2015, EU member states are the world's second largest military spender, after the US.

However, defence budget funds are often inefficiently used due to:

  • fragmentation of the European defence market
  • costly duplication of military capabilities
  • insufficient industrial collaboration and lack of interoperability

To address these issues, the European Commission presented the European defence action plan on 30 November 2016. The action plan aims to:

  • boost cost efficiency of defence spending
  • enhance defence cooperation
  • build a stronger industrial base

The plan sets out three key actions:

  • setting up a European defence fund
  • encouraging investments in the defence industry
  • reinforcing the single market for defence 

On 22 June 2017, the European Council welcomed the Commission's communication on a European defence fund. They also called for rapid agreement on the proposal for a European defence industrial development programme.