Centre for European Reform

The Trials and Tribulations of European Defense Cooperation

France’s strategic defence review, published in April, was met with sighs of relief in several European capitals and in Washington. Many had feared that Paris would replicate the debilitating defence cuts introduced by a number of European countries since the onset of the economic crisis. According to some EU officials, European defence budgets combined have dropped from €200 to €170 billion since 2008, as governments have sought to rein in public spending. But President François Hollande resisted calls from his finance ministry to reduce the defence budget by 10 per cent. Instead he has frozen funds for France’s armed forces at just over €30 billion a year until 2019.


  • In an attempt to minimise the impact of defence spending cuts, European governments have introduced some welcome forms of military collaboration. But they need to sign up to many more joint projects if they want to stem the deterioration of their armed forces.
  • The many obstacles that have hitherto impeded European defence co-operation remain. Governments are reluctant to trust their neighbours and they want to protect jobs at home.
  • At least some of these hurdles could be removed. Governments should seek to emulate co-operative programs like the European Air Transport Command. They should propose new NATO equipment programmes which involve more European defence companies. They should also agree on an ambitious European drone programme at the European Council in late 2013.

Nevertheless, the French review, known as the ‘Livre Blanc’, is an uncomfortable reminder to all Europeans of the security challenges they face. The white paper highlights that Europe’s stability continues to be threatened from many directions, not least North Africa, the Middle East and the Sahel. It also recognises that the United States is suffering from its own budgetary strains and is tired of long military operations. It therefore argues that Europeans should not assume that Washington will provide its full military support to stem conflicts which are primarily of interest to Europe.

Read the full paper at the Centre for European Reform or download below.