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The Strategic Compass also aims to strengthen civilian operations. Photo: EUMM, an unarmed EU civilian monitoring mission in Georgia (© Stortinget).
Surrounded by instability
The world is becoming an increasingly unsafe place. This is also being felt in the European Union (EU), which is surrounded on all sides by regions of instability. This is the case in the Western Balkans, but also in the south, for example, with Libya and Syria.
In the east, the threat of a hostile Russia has even turned into an outright war on European soil. But alongside Ukraine, countries such as Moldova and Georgia are also suffering intimidation.
The Arctic is in a state of flux too: the melting polar ice is leading to more opportunities for the superpowers to get in each other's way. And we should not forget the tensions and conflicts on other continents such as Africa (Sahel, Central Africa, Horn of Africa, etc.), Asia (Gulf region, North Korea, etc.) and Latin America (Venezuela, Colombia, etc.).
The threats from around the world are showing no signs of diminishing either; examples include terrorism and violent extremism, but also the proliferation of weapons. Both states and non-state actors are deploying hybrid strategies, using cyber attacks, disinformation, and interference in elections.
If cyberspace has become a new domain of competition, then the same is true of space, and alertness is no less necessary on land and at sea. In addition, our security is threatened by climate disruption, environmental degradation, and natural disasters. Global health crises such as the one we experienced with COVID-19 can also fuel geopolitical rivalries.
All of this is reason enough for the EU to vigorously pursue a more ambitious security action plan. Discussions for a Strategic Compass began far back as the summer of 2020, under the German presidency, and the end result is like nothing else that has gone before. For the first time, EU Member States are laying a solid foundation for far-reaching cooperation in the areas of defence and security. It contains very specific, achievable action points and a detailed roadmap to achieve a safer Europe by 2030.
EU actions at sea also need to be strengthened. Photo: EUNAVFOR Atalanta (EU Naval Force Somalia) protects, among others, World Food Programme boats with humanitarian aid for displaced persons in Somalia (© EUNAVFOR).
Act, Secure, Invest, Partner
Act encompasses measures that enable the EU to act quickly and robustly where needed, with a partner if possible, alone if it is necessary. For example, the EU wants to have a Rapid Deployment Capacity by 2025 to enable it to quickly deploy up to 5,000 soldiers in crisis situations. Regular exercises and greater military mobility are intended to enhance preparedness. In addition to the military chain of command, civilian operations must also be strengthened.
Secure points to the need to foresee threats, protect citizens and secure critical domains. The flagship feature here will be an EU Hybrid Toolbox that provides the tools for a coordinated response to hybrid hostile campaigns. The intelligence services must be strengthened as well as cyber defence policy and EU actions on land, on sea and in space.
Under Invest, the Member States commit to investing more (effectively) in capacity and innovative technologies in order to reduce technological and industrial dependence. This can be done by making full use of existing mechanisms such as the European Defence Fund. A defence innovation hub will be created within the European Defence Agency.
Finally, Partner represents the proposal to strengthen cooperation with our partners. This includes not only NATO, but equally regional partners such as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the African Union (AU), and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Like-minded countries such as the USA, Canada and the UK can also be useful partners.
The High Representative for Foreign Policy and Security Josep Borrell will present an annual report to the European Council (© Shutterstock).
Satisfaction in Belgium
Belgium is satisfied with the outcome. Needless to say, the final 47-page text constitutes a compromise, but the level of ambition remains high. What is essential for our country is the clause stating that the implementation of the Compass will be closely monitored. The European Council will discuss progress annually on the basis of a report by High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell. As early as 2025, the High Representative will consider whether the Compass needs to be revised.
For Belgium, it was not so much necessary to change the entire EU defence policy, but rather for the EU and its Member States to take more responsibility in the areas of defence and security and to strengthen their capabilities. And this does not simply concern spending more, but also spending better and together. By strengthening synergies, existing tools can be used more effectively.
Foreign Minister Sophie Wilmès has also expressed satisfaction. She emphasised that Belgium will be closely monitoring the level of ambition and ensuring political action at the highest level – heads of state and governments. She also praised the additional capacity that will be developed to repatriate compatriots from abroad, for example.
Defence Minister Ludivine Dedonder celebrated the fact that the EU will be stronger in defending its interests and those of its citizens in a world in constant change. She welcomed the more solid cooperation with partners such as the USA and Africa. Belgium as a pioneer in inter-European cooperation, including with Luxembourg, the Netherlands and France, can serve as an example.
With the Strategic Compass, the EU has demonstrated its act as one entity in response to a rapidly changing world. Only in this way can it continue to protect its citizens, interests and values and contribute towards international peace and security.
Explore the full Strategic Compass for Security and Defence
Did you know that Belgium also has a national security strategy?
Read A strategy to make Belgium more resilient