In the aftermath of Trump’s victory some interesting changes are happening on the European side. On Monday the 14th of November EU foreign ministers met in Brussels in a joint session on the implementation plan on security and defense policy. The meeting that happened just few days after the US elections, seems to have established a new awareness for what concerns the European security and defense agenda. Among commentators there is a general agreement on the fact that conclusions of the Monday meeting point to a shared acknowledge among EU foreign ministers of the approaching end of the classic transatlantic relation. What the future will bring depends now on how EU leaders will invest in the momentum.
It is by no means possible to account only for the unexpected Trump’s victory as the determining factor of a more assertive EU security and defense position, but for sure the newly elected US president, whit his disruptive positions on the US weight in the transatlantic relation, is bringing a sign for a change. Trump notwithstanding, the signs that EU foreign policy was taking a new direction appeared already in the document presented by the High Representative Federica Mogherini in June, the European Union Global Strategy (EUGS). The document accounts for a new level of ambition and, back in times when no one would have suspected, underlined the need to be less military reliant on the US. The European Global Strategy points out a new strategy for the EU in order to be stronger and it is a realistic document that, if really implemented, could redesign EU’s external role. The document, in fact, is realistic because it sets a number of concrete priorities for a new European strategy. Although, since the release in June, it raised questions on whether this would have been another unsuccessful European attempt to provide an impulse for further integration on the defense and security policy.
The Global Strategy provides for a realistic foreign policy for some of reasons. First of all the area of European interest is reduced, the EU is thus no longer engaged in securing and strengthening the relations with international partners such as China, but is focused on the close neighbourhood, both southern and eastern. The document also stresses that in order to strengthen the security issue, inside and outside the borders, the EU should no longer build institutional structures abroad. What the document proposes is a halt in the coherent and comprehensive Neighbourhood policy, as it was imagined back in 2004, considering the weak influence the EU had in transitional democracies. The strategy however does not imagine the end of the European Neighbourhood policy, instead proposes a redefinition of the means based on a rationale evaluation of the main weakness. The European Neighbourhood policy will thus be designed around bilateral negotiated agreements with third countries in a more tailored made approach.
Another fundamental point stressed in the new strategy is to redefine the relations with the US, in particular the dependency on the American defense protection, the EU should rethink its own security and defense policy apart from the US. The new strategy also recognizes NATO as the leading defense institution, as reasserted during the Warsaw summit in July. HR Mogherini expresses also the need to work closely with NATO and not to engage in a duplication race.
The momentum for taking action in a new security and defense strategy based on the motto of the document “A stronger Europe” is now. After Brexit in fact EU institutions lost a chance to fairly welcome the new EU global strategy, because of the unexpected fear that the referendum brought. Now the time has come and EU foreign ministers seem to be aware of it.
What happened in the Monday meeting in Brussels is thus a sing of the impetus that the European security and defense policy is experiencing. In the joint session foreign ministers authorized the plan on “permanent structured cooperation” (PESCO). This plan marks the initiation of a two-speed approach, therefore those countries that believe in further strengthening the European security and defense project do not have to wait for those who are against. The reluctant members, such as the group of Baltic states, will no longer hinder the European military project. Further, in the official document issued by the Council it is possible to read that Battle Groups, the EU’s toolbox of Rapid Response, will receive a deeper relevance by EEAS in order to investigate their actual usability.
The Monday meeting can thus be read as a step forward for those member states such as France, Italy and Germany that push for a greater security and defense integration. Most of the commentators depicted the increasing steps forward as a reaction to Trump’s victory and his public declarations on the US weight in the EU defense. The relation might not be such straight forward but, to some extent, it is possible to account for the timing of Trump’s election as the external factor that made some member states push on the accelerator of security and defense policy.
The EU should continue to take advantage of the momentum, created by the positive alignment of political events, to further strengthen the efforts for the implementation of the strategic plan settled out in the EUGS. A US departure from the EU’s military and foreign policy matters, together with the future Brexit will, if only, provide space for a truly EU security and defense policy. The obstructionism made by the NATO supremacy and US positions, the non duplicating issues and the fatigue experienced by the political machine of EU decision making were deemed the primary reasons of the EU stall in building a truly EU foreign policy. An US military estrangement, as depicted by president elected Trump, together with the PESCO implementation clearly provide hopes for future developments.
Gaia Taffoni, ISPI research trainee
 See europa.eu/globalstrategy