A Critical Analysis of the Future of the EU’s CFSDP

ESSAYBlake Bierman

The Common Foreign, Security, and Defense Policy (CFSDP) of the European Union today acts a chameleonic hybrid of objectives and policies that attempt to resolve a plethora of threats faced by the EU. In a post 9/11 security framework, any acting policy measure must simultaneously answer to a wide array of political demands from member states and bureaucratic constraints from Brussels. As a result, the urgent need for consolidation and coherency in a common, digestible narrative has evolved into a single EU Global Strategy that boldly attempts to address today’s most pressing security whilst proactively deterring those of tomorrow. In this analysis, I will first present a foundational perspective on the external context of the policy areas. Next, I will interpret the self-perception of the EU within such a context and its role(s) within. Thirdly, I will identify the key interests, goals, and values of the EU and assess their incorporation into policy. I will then weigh potential resources and strategies the EU may utilize in enacting and enforcing said policies. After examining the aforementioned variables, I will end my assessment by weighing the strengths and weaknesses of both the EU’s Strategic Vision and Reflection Paper while identifying preferences within the two narratives.

EU in an External Context: A SWOT Analysis

When it comes to examining the two perspectives presented, the documents must be viewed from their correlative timelines. The first document, “From Shared Vision to Common Action: Implementing the EU Global Strategy Year 1,” (I will refer to this as the Implementation paper) serves as a realist review of ongoing action within the EU’s three policy clusters in detailing the beginning stages of integrated approach and outlook towards the internal-external nexus along with an emphasized role of public diplomacy in the mix. On the other hand, the second document, “Reflection Paper on the Future of European Defense,” (I will refer to this as the Reflection paper) acts more so as a planning guide to define the potential frameworks for policies going forward into 2025. Once these documents are viewed within their respective timelines, a balanced “SWOT” analysis can assess the similarities and divergences of the options they present. Overwhelmingly, the theme of cooperation acts as a fundamental staple in both documents. In my opinion, this acts a force for unification and solidarity amongst member states from not only the point of view of common interest in all three policy areas, but also as a reminder of the benefits in the impact and cost of action as prescribed in the UN and NATO cases. Both documents seem to expand the EU’s context in terms of scope as embracing the means and demands for security in a global lens. The documents reinforce that in a globalized world, threats and their responses require an approach that extends beyond EU borders, and therefore a strong, coherent policy voice is needed to bring together member states and allies alike to defeat them.

Examining the divergences, much is left to be desired as far as the risks and opportunities are presented. In my perspective, I believe this was constructed purposefully as an attempt to leave the both areas  as open as possible to allow for member states to interpret them in the context of their own narratives. In short, member state cohesion at literally every policy inroad proves to be the proverbial double-edged sword as the single largest risk and opportunity tasked by the organization. I think that the incessant rehashing of the need to stress state sovereignty at every turn while glamorizing the benefits of a single market and economies of scale identifies a bipolar divide in both documents that seems yet to be bridged by national sentiments even in the most agreeable of policy areas like diplomacy. The discord remains all but dependent on the tide of political discourse at the national level for years to come as the pace maker to materialize sufficient commitments in everything from budgets to bombs in order to achieve true policy success.

Who is the EU? Self-Perception and Potential Scenarios

After understanding the external context of the EU policy areas, we now turn to the element of self-perception and the roles of the EU as an international actor. Examining the relationship between the two stands as a crucial understanding of policy formulation as central to the core identity to the EU and vice versa. In this case, both documents provide key insight as to the position of the EU in a medium-term perspective. From the Implementation Paper, we see a humbled approach that pushes the EU to evolve from a regional, reactionary actor to a proactive, world power. The paper hones in on the legal roots and past successes of an integrated approach outside EU borders as a calling to solidify the Union’s mark as a vital organ for peace and defense. The paper then broadens such an identity to incorporate the elements of NATO and the UN cooperation as a segmenting role for member states contributions, such as intelligence collection and military technology/cyber warfare. In the Reflection Paper, I think the tone and phrasing speak more to the self-perceptions of individual citizens. The emotive language for the promotion of a just cause attitude stands reinforced by the onslaught of harmonizing buzzwords throughout the paper and the three scenarios such as “joint, collaborative, solidarity, shared, common, etc.”. In my perspective, such attempts draw in the need to reinforce, protect, and preserve a common identity both at home and abroad. This formation speaks to the development of both military and civilian capabilities as a means of securing and maintaining a strong EU position in the global order while supplementing the protection of what is near and dear at home.

Policy Today: Interests, Goals, and Values

When developing a coherent line of key interests, goals, and values across three focal policy structures, the EU makes strategic use of public perception as a litmus test to guide policy narratives. In the Reflection Paper, indications clearly point to a heightened citizen concern over immigration and terrorism from 2014-2016 taking clear priority over economic issues as the continent recovers. Such a reshuffling may pave the way for once-apprehensive politicians to reexamine budgeting priorities. Such a mandate could very well be the calling national governments need to allocate more of their defense spending to the EU while also ramping up domestic civilian and military infrastructure to contribute to common policy goals. Extending this notion of interest-based contributions over to the goals themselves, I think that member states are slowly developing the political will to see that a single market for defense ultimately becomes more attractive to the individual tax payer when all play a part. As the Reflection Paper explains, this can be translated as free/common market values with the development of economies of scale, boosted production, and increased competition. In each of the three scenarios outlined, the values act as matched components to these goals and interests. Therefore, readers retain a guiding set of “principles” as the basis for the plan’s “actions” and “capabilities.” The alignment of interests, goals, and values remains a difficult but necessary target in all policy areas, as the final results have significant influence over the perception of publics that indirectly vote the policies into place. In my perspective, a lack of coherence between the three and the policies could be a potential pitfall for policy objectives as lost faith by the public may sink the voter appetite for future defense spending and action.

Making it Happen: Resources and Strategies

As the balance between the EU’s ways and means become a focal point for any CFSDP discussion, I wanted to enhance the focus between the resources and strategies to examine the distribution between EU and member state competencies. When it comes to resources in all three policy areas, individual member states’ own infrastructures become front and center. Even in the “collaborative” lens of a 21st century EU, foreign affairs, defense, and security mainly revolve as apparatuses of a state. Therefore, in order to achieve a common strategy, policy must make a concerted effort to maximize collective utilization of state assets while respecting state sovereignty. In the Reflection paper, an attempt to consolidate the two by bolstering the EU’s own defense budget acts as a middle ground. In this regard, I think the biggest opportunity for the EU to retain its own resources remains in technology. States are simply more eager to share their military tech than they are their own boots on the ground. Similarly, technology and its benefits are more easily transferrable between member states and the EU. Just as well, selling the idea of technology research to taxpayers that may one day see the fruits of such labor in civilian applications is an easier pill to swallow for politicians than having to justify the use of a state’s limited and precious human military capital for an EU assignment not all may agree with. A type of “technological independence” the third scenario implies would optimally direct funding in a manner that balances state military capacity where it acts best while joining the common strategy for EU technological superiority that all member states can equally benefit from.

Narratives and Norms: A Final Comparison

After reviewing the progress made in the Implementation Paper and balancing it with the goals set forth in the Reflection paper, it remains clear that serious decisions towards the future of EU CFSDP still need to be made. The EU Global Strategy treads lightly on the most important topics for voters like immigration and terrorism that remain works in progress under the program’s steps for “resilience” and the beginnings of an integrated approach. That being said, my perspective in this program lens remains that the role and funding of public diplomacy unfortunately remains undercut by the giant umbrella of security and defense. To delve into the assessment of counterterrorism policy as a solely defensive measure does a disservice to the massive, existing network of EU diplomatic missions serving abroad that effectively act as proactive anti-terrorism measures in themselves. At the same time, supplementing funding to public diplomacy programs would take some of the pressure off member states to release their military capabilities for joint use. In this facet, I empathize with the member state politician and voter in their apprehensiveness to serve as the use of force in even the most justifiable situations. A refocus on funding in the diplomacy side is a cost effective alternative and investment that member states can make to reduce the likelihood that their troops will need to serve abroad on behalf of the EU. The success of diplomacy can be seen in areas like immigration, where the Partnership Framework on Migration has attempted to work with countries of origin to stabilize governments and assist civilians.

Turning the page to the Reflection Paper, I think much is left to be desired in terms of the development of the three scenarios. Once again, the scenario parameters are purposefully vague to effectively sell the plan to a wide variety of narratives. At the same time, I found it reprehensible that despite the massive rhetoric to budgetary concerns, none of the three scenarios incorporated any type of estimate fiscal dimension to compare and contrast the visions. Obviously, the contributions of member states will vary widely but I think that a concerted campaign to incentivize a transparent contribution table in terms financing, military assets, diplomatic assets, or (ideally) a combination of the three would see a more realpolitik approach to what the EU does and does not possess in the  capacity to achieve in these policy areas. Ultimately, I believe that Scenario C “Common Defense and Security” retains the most to offer member states while effectively balancing the contributions and competencies equally. I think that the scenario utilizes the commitments to NATO and reinforces the importance of technological independence. As such, the importance of a well-defined plan to develop and maintain cutting-edge technology in all three policy areas cannot be overstated and, in my opinion, will become not only the most common battlefield, but also the critical one as the world enters into a 21st century of cyber warfare.



European Union. (2016). From Shared Vision to Common Action: The EU’s Global Strategic Vision: Year 1.

European Union. (2016). Reflection Paper on the Future of European Defense.

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