A quick guide to understanding the puzzle (EDGE3)

Edoardo del PrincipeIMG E6202by Edoardo Del Principe MA, with additional material by Arianna Comis MA and Robin Ashby


CSDP Institutional Framework: Agencies and Actors
Key Points in Modern CSDP: Defence Market and Strategies
Active Missions and Operations: EU in Action
European Defence and New Challenges


Around 5,000 EU citizens are currently involved in 6 military and 10 non-military CSDP (Common Security and Defence Policy) missions. But what is it, and why is it important?

The CSDP is the best known part of the European foreign policy and also the most discussed because of the objective it has of preserving peace and long term stability in the EU.

CSDP missions had a key role in the last year's political agenda of the Member States with the failing EU NAVFOR MED Op Sophia in the Mediterranean Sea and EUBAM Libya, tackling the refugees crossing crisis.

CSDP Institutional Framework: Agencies and Actors

The CSDP is part of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) - in effect the active part of the foreign policy of the EU. The CFSP has its roots in the 70's when the member States needed a more connected agenda beside the strategic economic value of the union.

The first conceptualisation of European missions was in the 1992 Maastricht Treaty and the foundation of the "Three Pillars". In the same year in Bonn ministers of the Western European Union had defined military tasks of a humanitarian, disarmament, peacekeeping and peacemaking nature that the WEU would be empowered to do. In 1997 the tasks were incorporated into the new Treaty on European Union (the Amsterdam Treaty).

In 1999 at the Helsinki meeting European leaders and NATO signed a "non-duplication" agreement where the EU could run operative missions if they are not filling the same space as NATO operations - member States can launch operative missions under the EU "hat" when there is not a NATO mission doing the same job.

It is possible to have simultaneously EU and NATO missions in the same location but for different tasks, and member States can use NATO infrastructure and logistics when they operate outside the North Atlantic area.

The Lisbon Treaty created the figure of the High Representative and Vice-President of the Commission (now the Spanish Josep Borrell). The HR/VP4 is the main political player for the foreign agenda inside the institutional framework of the EU because of the power he or she has in coordinating the European External Action Service, European Defence Agency, Foreign Affairs Council (meetings foreign Ministers of the Member States) as well as committees to create and enable policy for the European Cou. Being a political figure is not a secondary element in the discussion because the personality and political views of the person in charge can change drastically the foreign agenda of the EU. This happened with the HR Catherine Ashton, who preferred to have a bilateral approach to third countries and in general was more of a diplomat than a politician.

On the other hand Federica Mogherini preferred a more comprehensive approach and setting a global agenda for all the member States. Federica Mogherini pushed forward what was previously imagined in the Lisbon Treaty and worked with Jean-Claude Juncker, former European Commission president, to create a new global strategy. The first European document to set the common foreign policy was published in 2003 and it is known as the European Security Strategy (ESS).

Thirteen years later the document was updated and renewed in the EU Global Strategy (EUGS) and in creating the Coordinated Annual Review on Defence (CARD) to check the progress made during the year. From 2014 but especially from 2016 and Brexit referendum the EU has taken major steps into enabling new agencies and funds in order to have a more efficient and cohesive foreign policy.

The Permanent Structured Cooperation, known as PESCO, and the European Defence Fund (EDF) have been planned to be the core of the future foreign policy of the EU and to take progressively a more dominant role.

PESCO, CARD and EDF work together in a reinforcing cycle where the Fund finances manufacturing capabilities and PESCO helps create new technologies and equipment. The CARD checks every year the state of the projects to renew funds or set new priorities. Despite the fact that public opinion perceives PESCO as a form of European army, it is not. PESCO projects are set up between at least three Member States to achieve a more harmonic environment between the singular armies. These projects are set to create shared technologies and operational capabilities and not a common army of the EU. Something that is conceptually close to the Erasmus+ Project where common experiences are shared in order to create a sort of common background between people of the EU. For example, PESCO projects are trying to create commonality whereby the Italian and German armies can use the same equipment and can work together because they have a similar tactical background.

Key points in modern CSDP: Defence Market and Strategies

The main role of the CSDP is to implement civilian and military capabilities of the EU in order to accomplish missions to prevent conflicts and manage crises. These actions taken by several EU bodies and agencies are subordinated to a political view which is discussed in the CFSP but has its effect in the CSDP. Federica Mogherini, in coordination with academic and military personnel, released in 2016 the EUGS8 is the "foreign policy bible" of the EU where principles and strategic views of the Union are described.

The main point is to connect the strong proven soft power capabilities of the EU with a more modern hard power approach to conflicts resolution and crisis management in order to have a peaceful neighbourhood and more cohesive Union.

Any civilian mission within military operations needs goods, equipment, weapons etc. It is increasingly evident that the European defence market should play a key role in the production of all that is necessary for the CSDP. Because the EU is not the only player in the defence market, one of the future points for a more effective defence policy is to have so called "strategic autonomy", the ability to produce and provide all necessary intellectual property, materiel and services for defence and security. The EU is moving that way but the road is difficult when there is conflict because of national budgets and bilateral agreements with third countries on buying or selling military equipment.

Strategic autonomy is a perfect example of a trade-off operation where, in order to gain something, something else must be lost and every Member States must balance the losses and advantages of a future foreign policy.

The CSDP can be divided into two phases; the first where the Member States produce new technologies and capabilities and the second is where and when they use them. Subordinated to the new strategic vision of the EU Global Strategy, authorized missions have a more regional approach, meaning the involvement in the same area for a common goal, like what is happening in the Sahel. From the EUGS, the EU highlighted the necessity to provide a far more complex answer to current challenges. This is a big step forward from the previous approach, which was more on following UN and NATO operations in support or replacing them.

Another key topic for the EUGS is to implement a "comprehensive approach" in creating a strategy to manage crises or conflicts. In short they mean an integrated and shared vision between Member States and EU bodies or third party operators in international relations in order to produce the best strategy and policy to overcome problems. This approach sounds perfect on paper but it is still hard to put effectively into action because of the EU inter-institutional conflict or different priorities and perspectives on European security between the Member States. This means that agreements on a high-level policy are difficult to achieve.

Active Operations and Mission: EU in Action

Seventeen missions are now active around the world led by the EU. After a first distinction between civilian and military operations, each of those contain more types of missions. Civilian missions can be distinguished between "Capacity building in support of security and development" and "Instrument contributing to stability and peace".

In the first branch are acronyms like EUBAM (European border missions) EUTM (European Training Mission) or EUCAP (European Capacity Building Mission) where the objective of the mission is to train actual and new civil personnel to accomplish specific tasks.

In the second branch are monitoring missions where EU personnel are involved, in order to observe and guide institutions or defence systems, managing a renewed stability. EUMM (European Monitoring Mission) or EUAM (EU Advisory Mission) are part of it. Civilian personnel are chosen by the EEAS, coordinated by the Civil Planning and Conduct Capability (CPCC) under the supervision of the Political and Security Committee (PSC) and the HR/VP.

Operations are led locally by the selected commander in coordination with Military Planning and Conduct Capability (MPCC) and the European Military staff (EUMS) under the supervision of the PSC and the HR/VP. European military personnel are commonly but not exclusively from the same country as the commander.

There's more information about missions in the Appendix

European Defence and new challenges

From the terrorist attacks in the middle 2010s to the current pandemic crisis, it is obvious that the EU needs a stronger and more effective defence and security system to provide peace and stability among its members. What is decided will be relevant for decades to come and now is the time, more than ever, to make the European defence part of public discussion.

In order to achieve policy on this higher level it is likely that someone must be dissatisfied during the process. The EU tries constantly, in other policy-making areas, to make decisions at the lowest level possible trying not to centralise power. But for its foreign policy the only way to make it work is to centralise decision-making.
Member States are unused to this way of working inside the EU, including creating rigid positions to allow the process. This friction is an inevitable part of politics and cannot be divorced from the institutional framework while unanimity is maintained in its voting process.

APPENDIX - Current Military Missions

The EU factsheet stated “there are 16 ongoing CSDP operations, 10 civilian and six military” . The six current military operations comprise

  • One land force operation in Bosnia and Herzegovina (EUFOR ALTHEA);
  • Two naval force operations: EUNAVFOR Somalia (Operation ATALANTA), an anti-piracy operation off the Horn of Africa; and EUNAVFOR Med (Operation SOPHIA), launched in response to the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean; and
  • Three military training missions (EUTM) in Somalia, Mali, and the Central African Republic.In May 2018, the House of Lords European Union Committee published the report of its inquiry Brexit: Common Security and Defence Policy Missions and Operations. Appendix 4 of the report listed the current EU missions and provided information relating to the total number of military personnel deployed on each operation, include UK personnel. The information from appendix 4 is reproduced in the table below. The lists of countries contributing to each operation are sourced separately


Mandate Dates

Total Personnel

UK Personnel

Participating Countries


(Operation SOPHIA)

(launched June 2015)

July 2017 to December 2018


5 x OHQ staff

1 x FHQ staff

Naval survey


Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, UK


(launched December 2004)

November 2017 to November 2018


6 x military

Reserve Battalion based in UK, which also provides a 120 strong Intermediate Reserve Company also based in UK.

19 nations, including EU and non-EU member states: Albania, Austria, Bulgaria, Chile, Czech Republic, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, France, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom


(Operation ATALANTA)

(launched December 2008)

December 2016 to December 2018






Operation Commander

and 56 core OHQ staff

“Participation in EU NAVFOR goes beyond EU Member States. Norway was the first non-EU country to contribute to the Operation, with a warship in 2009. Thereafter, Montenegro, Serbia and Ukraine have provided staff officers to the Operational Headquarters (OHQ) and Force Headquarters (FHQ). Ukraine contributed a warship early in 2014, New Zealand contributed an MPRA asset later the same year and in 2015, Colombia units collaborated with EU NAVFOR assets to counter-piracy off the coast of Somalia”.


(launched April 2016)

July 2016 to September 2018.  Pending Council Decision to extend to September 2020



Bosnia and Herzegovina, France, Italy, Georgia, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Spain and Sweden


(launched February 2013)

May 2016 to May 2018. Pending Council Decision to renew to May 2019


6 x military staff

2 x civilian


Humanitarian Law

Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, UK, Albania, Georgia, Montenegro, Serbia

EUTM Somalia

(launched April 2010)

December 2016 to December 2018. Pending Council Decision to renew to May 2019


3 x military staff

1 x civilian staff

Italy, Estonia, Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Germany, UK, Hungary, Portugal, France, Romania, Serbia

Completed Military Missions

The EU External Action website lists the completed EU missions and operations, five of which were military operations

  • Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, 2003 (EUFOR CONCORDIA/FYROM)
  • Democratic Republic of Congo, 2003 (EUFOR ARTEMIS)
  • Democratic Republic of Congo, 2006 (EUFOR RD Congo)
  • Chad and the Central African Republic, 2008-2009 (EUFOR Tchad/RCA)
  • Central African Republic, 2014-2015 (EUFOR RCA/CAR)

(EU External Action website, ‘Military and Civilian Missions and Operations’, 3 May 2016)

The table below provides further information on the operations, including troop deployments and countries involved:


Mandate Dates

Total Personnel

Participating Countries

Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (EUFOR CONCORDIA/FYROM)

31 March 2003 to 15 December 2003


“Concordia was the first-ever EU military mission. All member states bar Denmark and Ireland took part in it. In addition, 14 non-EU member states participated”. [NB. In 2003, there were 15 EU member states].

Democratic Republic of Congo (EUFOR ARTEMIS)

12 June 2003  to 1 September  2003


“Apart from the French troops on the ground (90% of the force) a special operations unit from the United Kingdom and a medical unit from Belgium were involved on the ground. The operational headquarters […] was based in Paris and included 80 officers drawn from all European countries”

Democratic Republic of Congo (EUFOR RD Congo)

July to November



EU members: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom. Non-EU member: Turkey

Chad and the Central African Republic (EUFOR Tchad/RCA)

28 January 2008 to 15 March 2009


“26 States in total; 23 EU member states and three third states (Albania, Croatia and Russia)” 

Central African Republic (EUFOR RCA/CAR)

January 2014 to March 2015


“Estonia, France, Georgia, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland, Romania and Spain […] [T]he UK has contributed one staff officer to the Operation Headquarters (OHQ) in Larissa, Greece, and four C-17 flights offered to the French, and at their request, used for tasks in support of EUFOR CAR”

UPDATED 4 December 2018 

Written by Edoardo Del Principe MA and edited by Arianna Comis MA. Edoardo is a 2020 Research Assistants with the U K Defence Forum, whose Director General is Robin Ashby.