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6 minute read

Dr Lubomír Zaorálek, Prague

Rebuilding institutions, cementing structures

(BSC/Minister Dr Lubomír Zaorálek*) Not even the largest, most populous and economically most powerful countries of the European Union can stand in isolation. Coping with the fundamental challenges faced by Europe today – including the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, the refugee crisis and the massive problems with unemployment, particularly among the young and especially in the south of the Union – requires commitment from the European Union as a whole.

The Euro-Atlantic Alliance has long been a “firm anchor” for the Czech Republic. It is through that Alliance that we aspire not only to protect common global interests by a show of power, but also to promote shared values – a liberal democracy, the universality of human rights of all generations, and the rule of law.

Today, as European Union members, we can see the inadequacy of some of the Union structures. Design defects, precipitated perhaps by nothing more than our lack of vision as the architects of European edifices have surfaced in the crises plaguing the euro area. In the face of the refugee crisis, we are aiming at addressing serious deficiencies that put the overall functioning of the Schengen area at risk.

The Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), as a fundamental component of the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy, merits equal attention, not just because Europe needs to underpin its political significance with credible military capability – alongside economic weight and functional diplomacy – in order to engage fully in the international arena, but also because we will have to take more account of the link between the internal and external security of the EU and its Member States.

European defence features permanently on the European Council agenda. The urgency and complexity of the challenges that lie ahead of us were factors in the decision, endorsed by the conclusions of the June European Council Summit, to revise the 2003 European Security Strategy (ESS).

The new European Global Strategy of the Foreign and Security Policy should primarily define, as precisely as possible, the extent of the EU’s political ambitions in responding to the security threats that have been identified and in safeguarding its own security, which includes wielding an active influence over developments in the Union’s immediate neighbourhood. In the pursuit of this aim, the new strategy should have a greater reach than the ESS by incorporating other external policies within the competence of the European Commission, as this would assuredly contribute to a more consistent approach towards foreign policy.

In my view, it is the way in which we face up to European neighbourhood in the new strategy that will be central to the future of the EU as a global power. At any rate, I believe it would be appropriate for the EU to renew its commitment to supporting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of its neighbours.

As for capacity building, I am convinced that the EU set out on the right track in the conclusions reached by the European Council in December 2013 and the Foreign Affairs Council in May 2015, in which it studiously dwelt on the issue of filling the gaps in capacity. In view of the sophisticated concept of its comprehensive approach, the EU needs to build both military and civilian capacities, the latter in particular representing a unique EU instrument.

We also need to make considerable headway in the financing of missions and operations. I am confident that, with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on board, we will achieve the more flexible institutional mindset required for defence funding. Accompanied by a reversal in the national defence spending trends of most Member States, including the Czech Republic, this could prompt a qualitative leap forward in the development of CSDP capacities.

Faced with scarce resources, numerous Member States and allies, including the Czech Republic, have had to build capacities in such a way that they can be used in both a European and Alliance context. For us, this is an additional pragmatic reason why we have long pursued – as one of the Czech priorities – the intensification and deepening of cooperation between the EU and NATO. This stands alongside the belief that only strategic and operational coherence, rather than competition and the duplication of the forces of both key organisations safeguarding security in Europe, makes sense.

I am conscious of the fact that attempts to converge the two organisations and define their relations have yielded little progress for us since the 1990s. The strategic partnership di“The EU needs to build both military and civilian capacities, the latter in particular representing a unique EU instrument.”

mension and practical cooperation between NATO and the EU have been hampered by certain unresolved policy issues and by a certain institutional rigidity manacling both organisations. The deteriorating security landscape in the European neighbourhood has delivered a strong stimulus to improve cooperation, and I would like to believe that we have the wherewithal to harness this opportunity – for a start, perhaps, by working together to prepare a response to new threats, such as cyber attacks or hybrid warfare, and by coordinating the development of our military capacities. The revival of the NATO-EU Capability Group and the improved exploitation of its potential, as initiated by the Czech Republic in spring 2015, should steer us towards progress in these areas.

Notwithstanding the above, besides seeking out synergy from cooperation between the two organisations, there is room within each for closer regional cooperation. For the Czech Republic, the Visegrad format is particularly important. The V4 countries are forming a joint European Battlegroup that will be on stand-by from January 2016. The V4 has designs on transforming this group into a permanent defence structure capable of both Union and Alliance deployment.

As involvement in the Visegrad Format does not preclude other opportunities for regional cooperation, the Czech Republic has also supported the Framework Nation Concept (FNC), initiated by Germany at the Welsh NATO Summit. I can only welcome more active German engagement in defencepolicy matters – the collective defence of Central and Eastern Europe is hardly conceivable without Germany.

Another area of growing potential for mutual cooperation is our involvement in the Szczecin-based Multinational Corps Northeast. This corps, together with its headquarters, has become a key element in Central Europe and a mainstay for the accomplishment of collective-defence tasks. The Czech Republic is keen to scale up its involvement here. It is preparing to increase the number of staff officers and would like to attach one of its ground brigades to it by 2019.

Reinforcing the strategic independence of the EU, underpinned by tenable military capabilities, would be impossible without the corresponding industrial and technological base. In view of the specific structure of its domestic defence industry, the Czech Republic will focus primarily on championing support for small and medium-sized enterprises, as well as their involvement in supply chains and in the preparations for CSDP-related research. We also believe it is important to support dual-use technology, which offers vast potential for the more efficient use of resources.

We must strive to wield the ability to safeguard the Union’s external security by both diplomatic and military power. The core strategic tasks, however, are to achieve the stability and functioning of Union institutions, to find ways to de-escalate existing antagonistic relations with Russia, and to tackle problems threatening the stability of the Union from within inasmuch as they erode our citizens’ confidence in EU institutions. Only by ensuring sufficient support of European citizens for our actions and policies that can deliver dignity and prospects in life, will we be able to advance these strategic interests of the European Union.

*Dr Lubomír Zaorálek is the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic and the Deputy Chairperson of the Czech Social Democratic Party