European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen reflected on the precipitous end to the NATO mission in Afghanistan in her ‘State of the EU’ (SOTEU) address. The summer’s events have given new impetus to the European Defence Union, writes Catherine Feore in EU Reporter.
Von der Leyen described the situation as raising “deeply troubling questions” for the NATO allies, with its consequences for Afghanis, service men and women, as well as for diplomatic and aid workers. Von der Leyen announced that she anticipated a joint EU-NATO statement to be presented before the end of the year, saying that “we” are currently working on this with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.
European Defence Union
Many have been critical of the EU’s failure to use its battlegroups. Von der Leyen attacked the issue head on: “You can have the most advanced forces in the world – but if you are never prepared to use them – of what use are they?” She said the problem wasn’t a lack of capacity, but a lack of political will.
Von der Leyen said the upcoming Strategic Compass document, to be finalized in November, is key to this discussion: “We need to decide how we can use all of the possibilities that are already in the Treaty. This is why, under the French Presidency, President Macron and I will convene a Summit on European defence. It is time for Europe to step up to the next level.”
Von der Leyen called for greater information-sharing for better situational awareness, sharing of intelligence and information, as well as drawing together all services from aid providers to those who could lead on police training. Secondly, she called for improved interoperability through common European platforms, on everything from fighter jets to drones. She threw out the idea of waiving VAT when buying defence equipment developed and produced in the EU, arguing that this would help interoperability and decrease dependency. Finally, on cyber she said that the EU needed a European Cyber Defence Policy, including legislation on common standards under a new European Cyber Resilience Act.
What are we waiting for?
Speaking after von der Leyen’s speech, chairman of the European Peoples’ Party Manfred Weber MEP said: “I fully welcome the initiatives from the defence council in Ljubjana. But what are we waiting for? The Lisbon Treaty gives us all options, so let’s do it and let’s do it now.” He said that President Biden had already made it clear that the US no longer wanted to be the world’s policeman and added that both China and Russia were waiting to fill the vacuum: “We would wake up in a world in which our children will not want to live.”