European Security and Defense Policy: A New Attempt at the European Defense Community?

Asking any average person in Europe today if they know anything about the European Defense Community (EDC) would probably receive a puzzled look and a negative answer. The reason for this is that no such thing exists today, even though there was an attempt at its creation in the past. What one hears of in today’s discussions on the European Union (EU) is the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and the European Defense and Security Policy (EDSP). So, if this is not a new idea, is it an attempt at correcting past mistakes, or is it simply an inseparable element of the recently established political union in Europe?

The EDSP can well be viewed as a new try at uniting the nations in Europe with a common position on foreign and defense policy and on security issues. What is different this time around is not only the international situation, but also the status of the European Union as an entity and the character of the organization. The Treaty of Maastricht, signed in 1991, officially established political union between the member countries, who have increased substantially since then, being 27 at present. This political union naturally requires that security and defense policy, as well as foreign policy, be taken to the European level and a procedure for the reaching of a common position be accepted. Therefore, the ESDP is not just another attempt at the EDC, but a requirement of the Union.

The idea for the establishment of a European Defense Community was given by René Pleven, prime minister of France, in 1950, as an answer to the threat that the Soviet Union posed to the countries of Western Europe at the time. A treaty was actually signed in 1952 which had as a purpose to establish the European Defense Community in accordance with the UN Charter and with the aim at keeping the peace in Europe, but it was denied ratification by the French Parliament in 1954 (Opi en Floyd). Article 1 of the treaty states that: “the High Contracting Parties institute among themselves a European Defense Community, supranational in character, consisting of common institutions, common armed Forces and a common budget” (Senate). This supranational idea was not accepted in France for two main reasons.

Firstly, the supporters of President Charles de Gaulle did not like the idea, as they largely believed that France should be nationally independent. This treaty would have been a very bold step towards European integration and would have therefore meant that the French army would be equal and under a higher command together with the ones of West Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxemburg. Also, the fact that de Gaulle later refused to allow international (NATO) troops on French soil unless they were under French command helps one see why the treaty was not ratified.

Secondly, France remembered only too well the German aggression in World War I and II, the latter of which had only ended 9 years earlier. From this fact, the French could not come to terms with the prospect of rearming West Germany, even though the sole aim of this army would be defensive. The French simply refused to allow even the slightest chance of German militarism reappearing on the continent of Europe in such a short time after the end of the War. Even though there was a significant role being played by NATO in West Germany at the time, it was believed that the Germans should take security into their own hands, but France did not support this idea at all.

From these two simple facts it becomes apparent as to why the treaty instituting the European Defense Community did not pass in the French Parliament. At the time, President de Gaulle was defining his individualist and nationalistic policy, even though it angered many, including the United States. Also, the memory of the Second World War was simply too fresh to allow a German army to come into existence. So, the document failed and the EDC never came into being.

Nevertheless, the continent of Europe required some kind of defense pact to counter the threat of the Soviet Union, which held most of Eastern Europe, and integrate West Germany into that pact. Luckily, an agreement of mutual defense already existed that would allow the countries of Western Europe to have a common position. This was the Western European Union (WEU). Created under the Brussels Treaty in 1948 and signed by Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Luxemburg and Great Britain, this defensive agreement was the European component in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), created in 1949. After the failure of the EDC, the Brussels treaty was amended in the Paris Agreements in late 1954, which added West Germany and Italy to the organization (History of WEU).

Even though an organization was now in place in Europe for collective defense, this was nowhere near the goals and the expectations that existed for the EDC. The Brussels Treaty and the amending Paris Agreements created an organization that was purely intergovernmental. It had none of the characteristics as proclaimed in Article 1 of the treaty for the EDC. Neither was a common army created, nor was there a common defense budget, and the WEU was completely subjected to NATO. This has often been commented upon as a failure of the countries of Western Europe to take a bold step towards European integration.

The WEU remained the coordinator in defense policy between the member states of NATO in Europe for a long time. An initiative was taken in 1981, called the Genscher-Colombo initiative, to incorporate the security and defense policy of the member states into the framework of the European Political Cooperation, which was another failure. The countries of Europe simply did not want to transfer their national security competences to the European level.

Nevertheless, mainly due to the changing political climate in Europe at the time, the member states that participated in the WEU recognized that they could not continuously depend on the United States for their security and took steps in 1984 and 1987 to bring closer intergovernmental cooperation between each other. The Rome Declaration of 1984 resulted in a decision that stated the following: “… the Ministers underlined their determination to make better use of the WEU framework in order to increase cooperation between the member states in the field of security policy and encourage consensus” (Rome Declaration). So, the defense ministers of the Member States recognized that there must be a common security policy within Europe if there was to be better coherence and political integration. Then, in 1987, the Hague Platform finally outlined that the European Community as created under the Single European Act “will remain incomplete as long as it does not include security and defense” (Platform on European Security Interests). This paved the way and showed the determination of the countries in the European Community to finally bring security and defense policy to the European level.

With the signing of the Maastricht Treaty on Establishment of the European Union, the field of Security and Defense Policy was officially integrated into the political union of Europe (The Maastricht Treaty). Under Article J of the Treaty, common security and defense policy shall be incorporated together with Common Foreign and Security Policy into the competences of the Council of Ministers on the European Union level. Three bodies have since then been created to deal with the ESDP within the framework of the Council: the Political and Security Committee (Council Decision (2001/78/CFSP)), the European Union Military Committee (Council Decision (2001/79/CFSP)) and the European Union Military Staff (Council Decision (2005/395/CFSP)). The first two were created in 2001 and the third in 2005.

The WEU also had a role to play in the creation of the ESDP as it was almost completely integrated into the framework of the EU in 2000. Through the Declaration of Marseille in November of that year, most of the WEU competences were transferred to the EU, with the exception of a few, like the one for overseeing the guarantee of mutual defense in case of armed aggression (Marseille Declaration). The most important were the crisis management capabilities of the WEU, since the countries of the EU had proven many times over that they could not take a single position on international crises, even ones that were within Europe like the Bosnian crisis. Since the Marseille Declaration, the members of the WEU have not met within its framework, even though there is nothing to stop them in doing so.

Looking back at the European Defense Community and the treaty to establish it, we see that the countries of the EU today have simply decided to go down another path to creating a common security and defense policy – the intergovernmental one. Nevertheless, the fact that this policy was not part of the EU framework until 1991 and the Treaty of Maastricht shows that the political union that the Member States signed up to through the Single European Act simply required the inclusion of security and defense policy into the framework. Nowadays, there is an idea for the creation of a Rapid Reaction Force that could, in time of crisis, be deployed quickly, and it is all the countries in the EU that participate in this idea. Yet, this is only a step towards the establishment of a supranational army, which even now seems to be a distant goal. The security situation in Europe changed a lot during the 1980’s and this also contributed to the feeling within the EU that there was need for a common position on defense and security issues. Yet, because the Council of Ministers of the European Union oversees this policy, it is intergovernmental in character and not supranational.

In conclusion, the European Security and Defense Policy is not another attempt at the European Defense Community. It lacks the supranational element that was the key idea of René Pleven and also does not foresee the creation of a European army in the near future. Yet, the political union that has been put in place in Europe since 1991 and the establishment of the European Union naturally requires the inclusion of foreign, security and defense policy into the European competences. There may still be work to be done in the field of ESDP, but the EU has shown that it has undertaken the task and will develop further in order to provide its citizens with security.


1. “Council Decision (2001/78/CFSP).” Official Journal of the European Communities (2001).

2. “Council Decision (2001/79/CFSP).” Official Journal of the European Communities (2001).

3. “Council Decision (2005/395/CFSP).” Official Journal of the European Communities (2005).


4. History of WEU. 06 01 2007 <;.

5. “Marseille Declaration.” 13 11 2000. History of WEU. 06 01 2007 <;.

6. Oaks, Mark. “European Security and Defense Policy: Nice and Beyond.” 02 05 2001. International Affairs and Defense Section, House of Commons Library. 06 01 2007 <;.

7. Opi, Sergio Baches and Ryan Floyd. “A Shaky Pillar of Global Stablity: the Evolution of the European Union’s Common Foreign and Security Policy.” Columbia Journal of European Law (2003): 299-332.

8. “Platform on European Security Interests.” 27 11 1987. History of the WEU. 06 01 2007 <;.

9. “Rome Declaration.” 24 10 1984. History of the WEU. 06 01 2007 <;.

10. Senate, United States. Convention on Relations With the Federal Republic of Germany and a Protocol to the North Atlantic Treaty. Treaty. Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1952.

11. “The Maastricht Treaty.” 07 02 1992. Eurotreaties. 06 01 2007 <;.


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