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Security and Defence after the Lisbon Treaty

, by Daniel Fiott

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When and if Ireland ratifies the Lisbon Treaty on 12 June the European Union (EU) would have overcome the impasse that accompanied the rejection of the EU Constitution. The Lisbon Treaty will facilitate some necessary changes to the EU’s institutional operability, not least in relation to the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) .


Indeed, the Lisbon Treaty will make a number of fundamental alterations to the functioning of the EU’s CFSP in the future. Such modifications will likely assist in bolstering the EU’s international presence – particularly in military operations around the globe – and hopefully subdue the reservations of those who have long thought the EU impotent in the foreign policy realm.

Towards an EU Foreign Minister?

One fundamental modification made by the Treaty is the merging of the European Commission’s (CEC) Commissioner for External Relations and the High Representative for the CFSP into a single High Representative of the Union’s Foreign and Security Policy (HR). The HR will not only head the European Council’s (EUC) Foreign Affairs Council and represent the EU internationally, but also become one of the vice-presidents of the CEC – the HR is thus a bridge between the EUC and CEC.

Unfortunately, while the HR will have more room to initiate policy proposals the EUC will still retain the ‘double-lock’ mechanism [1]. The HR will also have to consult with the European Parliament (EP) on the CFSP budget and any policy initiatives he or she has. Furthermore, as part of the CEC the HR will be exposed to a possible vote of no-confidence by the EP, which would force the HR to relinquish all CEC duties.

Nevertheless, the HR does gain a diplomatic staff by way of the European External Action Service (EEAS), which will be composed of EUC and CEC officials and seconded staff from national governments. The establishment of the EEAS is one of the most exciting features of the Lisbon Treaty, and will no doubt help consolidate the EU’s international presence and assist with the CFSP’s implementation.

Towards Common Military Capabilities?

Another important provision under the Treaty is the creation of a Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) [2], which will provide for an “operational capacity drawing on civilian and military assets” [3]. To facilitate this, the Treaty calls upon states to progressively improve military capabilities through the European Defence Agency (EDA) by boosting defence research and development and creating an effective defence market.

The Treaty will also allow the EUC to ‘entrust’ a group of member states with the execution of military actions under the CSDP. In what could lead to the development of an ‘elite’ grouping of EU military states [4], the Treaty alludes to a ‘permanent structured cooperation’ allowing for deeper EU military integration. In addition, the ‘Petersberg Tasks’ [5] have been extended to “include joint disarmament operations […] military advice and assistance tasks” and counter-terrorism actions . [6]

Finally, the Treaty provides for two further interesting amendments to the CFSP including the ‘mutual defence clause’ – which forces member states to protect any other member state under military attack - and a ‘mutual solidarity clause’ – which urges greater cooperation between national diplomatic missions vis-à-vis EU delegations, and the protection of any member state subject to terrorist attacks or natural disasters.

Beyond 1 January 2009

The Treaty, therefore, promises to make some important changes to the way the EU’s CFSP will operate in the future. Such amendments are yet another stage in the evolution of EU foreign policy. The impetus to move towards this is no doubt indebted to a growing awareness of a number of international dilemmas – such as energy security, human security and terrorism – that now affect all of the member states.

One suspects that the Treaty amendments are also an attempt by the EU to complement its already successful and broad array of ‘soft power’ tools with the capabilities of ‘hard power’. In this sense, the Lisbon Treaty successfully unchains at least one of the HR’s hands to be able to effectively implement the European Security Strategy and deal with international crises as and when they arise.

The CFSP has long been haunted by the ghost of the EU’s inability to act in places such as the Balkans, but with this more effective - one might even daringly say more supranational - policy the EU might just gain the capabilities needed to become a truly global force. The Treaty will effectively allow the EU to develop its military and diplomatic capabilities vis-à-vis the member states in a more concentrated manner.

Before all of this comes into force, however, Europe will have to wait patiently for the Irish to cast their votes. If they vote ‘yes’ the EU could become the international actor many hope it always could be. If they vote ‘no’ this could work both to the detriment of the EU and the world as a whole.

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Image: Javier Solana; source: European Commission, Audiovisual Services


[1The ‘double-lock’ requires a unanimous vote on a particular foreign policy issue before Qualified Majority Voting (QMV) is even considered.

[2Currently this is termed the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP). The change in name reflects a reconfiguration from a purely EU initiative to one more inclusive of member states.

[3The Treaty of Lisbon (2007) Article 28A (1.a).

[5The original ‘Petersberg Tasks’ included humanitarian and rescue tasks, military advice and assistance tasks, conflict prevention and peace making and peace keeping, tasks of combat forces in crisis management and post-conflict stabilisation.

[6Treaty of Lisbon (2007) Article 28B (1).

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