The Irish Times view on European defence: impetus for ‘Strategic Compass’ sought

In Dublin there is still some sensitivity about how ‘coalitions of the willing’ are paid for and controlled

True to form the French presidency of the EU is loudly banging the old drum of what president Emmanuel Macron calls “strategic autonomy”. EU foreign and defence ministers meeting in Brest last week were being asked to give impetus to a draft “Strategic Compass” paper on a vision for a more robust and coherent defence posture, a key French presidency priority. Leaders are expected to adopt it in March.

It's all about providing a complementary impulse to Nato efforts – 21 EU members are part of Nato – but the French also do not mind the idea of a European capability that is more independent of the US and an ability to project the union as a power on the world stage. Not least as the US turns to Asia and Russia rattles sabres on Ukraine's border. As Macron made clear when he took over the presidency in December, he wants to make "Europe powerful in the world, completely sovereign, free in its choices and the master of its destiny".

From an Irish perspective the “compass”, broadly welcomed by Irish officials as going in the right direction, is, more prosaically, largely to do with enhancing the ability of the union to contribute to global security, with a strong emphasis on multilateralism and a central place for the UN in decision-making and mandates.

The idea of creating a 5,000-strong rapid deployment force is mostly about being able to assist in emergency evacuations in conflict zones like Afghanistan, where to a large extent the EU was unable to contribute. Even the language of "battlegroups", previously created but never used, has been dispensed with.


In Dublin there is enthusiasm about the discussion of stepping up co-operation on cyber security and hybrid warfare, but reportedly still some sensitivity about what are called article 44 issues – how “coalitions of the willing”, in which only some members participate but under an EU flag, are paid for and controlled, and how to guarantee that the union’s values are safeguarded.