The European Council meeting in December next will include, for the first time in five years, a thematic discussion on defence issues. The European Council will discuss three clusters of issues. These are (a) increasing the effectiveness, visibility and impact of CSDP; (b) enhancing the development of defence capabilities; and, (c) strengthening Europe’s defence industry.The process is divided into two phases an informal and then a formal phase. The informal phase, which will continue until September, consists of a number of meetings such as Ministerial meetings, and others with Policy Directors, European Defence Agency (EDA) Steering Boards and the Political Security Committee. These meetings will allow the European External Action Service (EEAS) to explore with Member States which topics and priorities should be addressed as part of the European Council debate. The second phase, which will be more formal, will commence in September when a number of reports due will be available. The High Representative Report will be drafted by September 2013 (based on EEAS' and EDA's inputs), and the Commission’s Global Strategy for strengthening Europe's defence industry (in the form of a Communication) is expected to issue shortly. On this basis, recommendations will issue with a view to debate and conclusions next December.
In relation to discussions within my Department, as part of Ireland’s Presidency of the European Council, I hosted a seminar in Dublin Castle on 17th May, 2013, to discuss these issues. The seminar formed an integral part of the preparatory process of developing the agenda for the European Council discussion, with presentations from the European External Action Service, the European Defence Agency, the European Commission, Member States, academia and industry.
In my own address, I underlined the importance of this Council meeting and the need for clarity and consensus at EU level to ensure that the EU can effectively respond to emerging international crises. I pointed out that achieving the EU’s ambition in Common Security and Defence Policy requires a greater willingness amongst Member States to coordinate their efforts, rather than continuing to act individually. There is also a need to ensure that the Union has the requisite resources and military capabilities, able and willing to effectively respond to emerging international crises that could ultimately have an adverse effect on the EU and on the security of our States and our citizens. Having capabilities is one thing, but as I said at the seminar, the political will to deploy them is a key and missing component, which Heads of State and Government will need to address in December. I also pointed to the important role which the Defence Industry plays in support of jobs, growth, leading edge technology and innovation and, with a particular focus on our own national capacity, the contribution which SMEs can make in this regard.
During this preparatory stage it is difficult to foresee what public debate on collective security and defence may occur as no concrete proposals have yet been finalised.
The European Defence Agency, in consultation with participating Member States and the EU Military Committee, bring forward projects under the Pooling and Sharing initiative. Ireland is keen to continue to explore all aspects of this evolving initiative and will continue work to develop specific opportunities for Pooling and Sharing, where appropriate. However, the decision to participate in any specific Pooling and Sharing project is a sovereign decision to be taken by individual Member States.