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EUROPA > Summaries of legislation > The policies of the Union


The policies of the Union

Defence policy

Measures of general application
Cooperation between certain Member States
Financing of defence policy
Summary table


European security and defence policy (ESDP), now known as the "common security and defence policy", remains an integral part of the European Union's common foreign and security policy (CFSP). It includes the progressive framing of a common Union defence policy. Its purpose is to lead to a common defence, when the European Council , acting unanimously, so decides (Article I-40).

In view of the substantial differences between Member States' military capabilities and the ways they envisage security and defence, the Constitution contains provisions based on flexible arrangements that are acceptable to all Member States, in that they take account of their approaches and political commitments.

In addition, any decisions on defence policy must still be adopted unanimously.

However, the defence provisions in the Treaty on European Union (EU Treaty) have been substantially strengthened, in part by provisions of general application concerning all Member States and in part by provisions allowing a group of States to advance more rapidly than others on certain security and defence matters.

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The new generally-applicable provisions comprise the updating of the Petersberg tasks and the insertion of a solidarity clause.

First, the Constitutional Treaty updates the Petersberg tasks referred to in Article 17(2) of the EU Treaty, to which other missions have been added, such as joint disarmament operations, military advice and assistance tasks, conflict prevention and post-conflict stabilisation. The Constitution also states that all these tasks may contribute to the fight against terrorism (Article III-309).

Secondly, Article I-43 of the Constitution introduces a solidarity clause whereby the other Member States will provide assistance if a Member State is the victim of terrorist attack or natural or man-made disaster. In this case, the Union will mobilise all the instruments at its disposal, including the military resources made available by the Member States, in order to assist the Member State concerned. This is in addition to the new provision on civil protection (Article III-284).

Finally, Article I-41(7) of the Constitution introduces a mutual defence clause binding all the Member States (in contrast to the Convention's suggestion, which was to establish closer cooperation to this end). This obligation means that if a Member State is the victim of armed aggression on its territory, the other Member States will give it aid and assistance by all the means in their power. It does not affect the neutrality of certain Member States. The obligation will be implemented in close cooperation with NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation).

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Under Article III-310 of the Constitution, the Council may entrust the implementation of a task to a group of Member States that are willing and have the necessary capability for such a task. These Member States, in association with the Union Minister for Foreign Affairs , will agree among themselves on the management of the task.

In addition, in order to improve and rationalise Member States' military capabilities, the Constitution provides for the establishment of a European Agency in the field of defence capabilities development, research, acquisition and armaments. It will be known as the European Defence Agency (and not the European Armaments Agency, as proposed by the Convention). It will be subject to the authority of the Council of Ministers and will be open to all Member States wishing to be part of it (Article III-311). The statute, seat and operational rules of the Agency will be laid down in a European decision adopted by qualified majority .

Although not contained in the EU Treaty, the possibility of permanent structured cooperation in the field of security and defence is provided for in Article III-312 of the Constitution. This article provides for the establishment of permanent structured cooperation between Member States which fulfil the criteria and have made the commitments on military capabilities set out in a protocol annexed to the Constitution. This undoubtedly constitutes a major advance compared with the current provisions in the EU Treaty on the CFSP.

Any Member State wishing to participate must notify its intention to the Council and to the Union Minister for Foreign Affairs. A European decision must then establish this cooperation within three months, determining the list of participating Member States by a qualified majority. It is possible for Member States to join or withdraw from cooperation at a later stage. Furthermore, a Member State may be suspended if the Council decides it no longer fulfils the criteria. Apart from the constitution, enlargement and reduction of the group and the suspension of a member, all other European decisions and recommendations of the Council within the framework of permanent structured cooperation are adopted unanimously by the participating Member States.

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The Constitution maintains the prohibition on charging to the Union budget expenditure arising from operations having military or defence implications. This expenditure will continue to be charged to the Member States in accordance with the gross national product scale. However, the Constitution provides for the Council to adopt a European decision guaranteeing rapid access to appropriations for the urgent financing of preparatory activities for the Petersberg tasks.

In addition, a start-up fund made up of Member States' contributions is to be established to finance preparatory activities for Petersberg tasks which are not charged to the Union budget. The procedures for operating this fund will be laid down by the Council of Ministers acting by qualified majority (Article III-313).

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Articles Subject Comments
I-16 The common foreign and security policy -
I-28 Appointment, role and responsibility of the Minister for Foreign Affairs New provisions
I-40 Specific provisions for implementing common foreign and security policy -
I-41 Specific provisions for implementing the common security and defence policy Significant changes
I-43 Solidarity clause New provisions
I-44 Enhanced cooperation (general provisions) -
III-309 Petersberg tasks -
III-310 Implementation of a task by a group of Member States New provisions
III-311 Agency in the field of defence capabilities development, research, acquisition and armaments (European Defence Agency) New provisions
III-312 Permanent structured cooperation New provisions
III-313 Financial provisions -
Protocol on permanent structured cooperation Permanent structured cooperation New provisions

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The fact sheets are not legally binding on the European Commission. They do not claim to be exhaustive and do not represent an official interpretation of the text of the Constitution.

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