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Report | 27 April 2017

What Future for European Defence?

Defence EU Europe Foreign policy European Defence ELN

Views and Recommendations from the ELN Caucus

Political events across Europe and beyond in 2016 gave Europeans much needed impetus to examine and engage with the issues threatening the security and defence of Europe from within and outwith the continent. Even though the sense of urgency has increased in parallel with the developing threats and dangers, the way forward remains unclear.

Questions about the role of the two main security stakeholders in Europe, the European Union (EU) and NATO, have been at the forefront of policy discussions, alongside such issues as the division of labour between the two organisations and the various priorities of individual member states and Allies.

To obtain a better understanding of the key dynamics, the European Leadership Network contacted some of its members – former, present and emerging political, military, and diplomatic leaders from the Euro-Atlantic area – to seek out their opinions about the future of the European defence project. The 45 respondents, the ELN Caucus, shared their views on the main actionable points under consideration since the publication of the EU Global Strategy, the complementary European Defence Action Plan and the EU-NATO declaration.

The conclusions of the Caucus, presented in this report, reveal a wide diversity of opinion among Europeans on several issues:

  • There is no common view on the greatest threats facing Europe;
  • Disagreement persists over the level of ambition for EU-NATO relations and the meaning of EU ‘strategic autonomy’.

At the same time, we found greater convergence of views on a number of topics:

  • There is significant backing for the increases in national defence investment and closer collaboration on military-related research and development;
  • The Caucus sends a clear message of support for better EU-NATO coordination;
  • A clear majority supports the EU developing limited capabilities for external crisis management, while relying on NATO and national militaries for defence; and
  • Strong support exists across the entire continent for Theresa May’s vision of a “deep and special” security and defence relationship between the UK and the EU after Brexit.

The results of the Caucus confirm that there are no simple solutions for improving Europe’s security and defence. However, there is clear support for doing more, individually and collectively, and doing better within the already agreed parameters.


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.