The Iron Fist in the Velvet Glove: The European Union and Defence: Part 1

In the first of a series of articles on the defence decision-making processes of the European Union (EU), we examine the role of the European Council in this vital part of the EU’s activities.

The European Council groups together the EU’s members states’ heads of states or governments and defines the EU’s strategic agenda. Member states hold a relevant role in the EU strategic decision-making process, via the Council of European Union, also known as the EU Council. The EU Council groups member states’ ministers and has ten configurations, depending on the topic under discussion such as economic affairs, or justice, for example. An EU Council for Defence, comprising the EU member states’ defence ministers does not exist, so instead EU defence decision-making falls under the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) when defence matters are on the agenda.

An EU source confirmed that the FAC has a crucial role on defence, as decisions in this domain remain state-driven. In particular, the FAC is involved in EU defence decision-making through the approval of recommendations, and in EU crisis management.

Decisions taken by defence ministers within FAC are prepared by a number of preparatory bodies. For example, the Political and Security Committee (PSC) is a permanent preparatory body consisting of EU ambassadors, and it has a central role in both decision-making and crisis management. It drafts recommendations to be discussed by the FAC. It is also the political body which takes responsibility for the political direction of a response to a crisis, such as the military capabilities to be employed therein. The PSC is advised by the Politico-Military Group (another preparatory body), and by the EU Military Committee; the Council’s supreme military body which groups member states’ chiefs of defence, or their permanent military representatives.