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Policy brief | 5 September 2017

Can CARD Change European Thinking about Capabilities?

EU NATO European Defence

Europeans need to think more systemically about capability development and combine NATO and EU efforts. The institutions fundamentally approach capabilities in different ways: NATO is interested in capabilities that caters to its operations while the EU considers capabilities a member state domain.

Since the EU Global Security Strategy this has begun to change. The potential of the new European Defence Fund (EDF) and the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) have received significant attention over the past few months. However the European Defence Agency’s new Common Annual Review on Defence (CARD) will be an important process to change the thinking of member states on their capability development in the longer term. The new EU processes will not duplicate NATO’s Defence Planning Process (NDPP) but it can also not simply be plugged into what NATO already does.

The paper points out the opportunities for more effective capability development in Europe and specific recommendation how the EU, its member states, and NATO can use the new institutional developments to prioritise filling European capability shortfalls and overcome its output problem:

The EU should:

  • Establish a coherent process to define political guidance and strategic priorities. This should have a significant impact on member state capability development plans. The priorities identified in the CDP through CARD should inform the choice of projects funded through the European Defence Fund. Once the details of PESCO become clearer, capability development should closely align with the EDF and CARD.
  • Streamline the output focus of capability development as much as possible, through its institutions, particularly the CARD, CDP, and projects funded through the EDF in view of supporting PESCO operations.
  • Use the review of the Athena mechanism to propose a more centralised funding system linked to the new capability development efforts to strengthen future EU missions.
  • Despite institutional distance, the Commission and the EDA should integrate their efforts and collaborate as much as possible on the EDF and the CARD process.
  • Prioritise aligning the CARD process much as possible with the NATO’s DPP process. This is likely to cut down on workloads in institutions and within member states, improve information exchange, address concerns of duplication within NATO, and build greater trust between NATO and the EU. Opportunities include the implementation of the Joint Declaration on capabilities, allowing NATO international staff access to selected CARD meetings, share and discuss lessons learned on the CARD trial run with NATO.

NATO should:

  • Encourage its allies to set up parallel back-to-back meetings on NDPP and CARD.
  • Use the framework of the EU-NATO Joint Declaration to the engage as much as possible on staff-to staff level on capabilities.
  • Maintain and expand channels of communication with EU institutions involved with capability development: EDA, Commission and the EEAS.
  • Provide assistance in addressing key challenges particularly with regard to assuring interoperability. This should include sharing lessons learned from the NDPP process to combine capability development and force generation more closely.

EU Member States should:

  • Use the developments on capabilities within the EU, EDF, PESCO and CARD, to address European capability shortfalls, improve pooling and sharing among members and create a closer connection between capability development and force generation.
  • Support the development of a ‘political guidance’ for the EU through the CARD process and in the Council to support more effective PESCO missions. Approach capability development with an eye to combining domestic defence planning plans with NATO requirements and EU political guidance.
  • Collaborate with the CARD process as openly as possible. That includes participating in meetings with the EDA, providing up-to-date information on current capability development plans and planned engagements in international missions.
  • Member states that are also NATO allies should work to create closer linkages between NDPP process and CARD by aligning the processes as much as possible within their own ministries. This should include:
    • scheduling review meetings on NDPP and CARD back-to-back;
    • integrating staff working on NDPP and CARD in ministries;
    • supporting the implementation of EU-NATO Joint Declaration specifically on capabilities;
    • Encouraging collaboration between Permanent Representative at NATO and the EU on capability developments.


The opinions articulated above represent the views of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the position of the European Leadership Network or any of its members. The ELN’s aim is to encourage debates that will help develop Europe’s capacity to address the pressing foreign, defence, and security challenges of our time.