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Wanted: EU Commissioner for Defence and Security

Security & defence / COMMENTARY
Maria Martisiute

Date: 03/07/2024

With Europe’s prosperity, security, and democracy under threat; the current stakes for Europe are very high. A strengthened EU role in driving the defence agenda forward, in conjunction with NATO, must be a priority. To be successful, the proposed new EU Commissioner for Defence and Security must have a clear plan, be ambitious, yet pragmatic, and cut across policy silos.

Europe’s moment

The overarching mission of the EU Commissioner for Defence and Security should aim to set a strategic direction for the establishment of a European Defence Technological and Industrial Base (EDTIB). This would require being adequately integrated, resourced, innovative and sustainable to reconcile the needs for defence products in wartime (short-term needs) and peacetime (long-term needs).

Since EDTIB is inexorably intertwined with security considerations, it makes sense to marry the two. Security is already developed across numerous EU policy areas, with some policy integration already tried and tested under Sir Julian King, the former EU Commissioner for the Security Union. However, the integration of the different policy strands of security under one cohesive framework remains amiss. This is largely due to different EU policies and programmes (such as Horizon Europe, Connecting Europe Facility, Cohesion Policy, cybersecurity and others) being developed in isolation from each other, with little coordination and incentives to seek synergies.

Four principal levels of responsibility

Therefore, the post of the new Commissioner for Defence and Security provides the opportunity to seize the moment. Tasks should span four levels: industry, investments, societal and structural aspects.


  • Strengthen cooperation of national defence production lines to develop an integrated, competitive and well-functioning EDTIB fit for the age of war.

  • Work closely with the member states on implementing the European Defence Industrial Strategy (EDIS) and progressively demonstrate to them how the European demand for defence items and the EU-wide security of supply can add value to the competitiveness of EDTIB. For example, through timely identification of shortages of a certain raw material critical for defence production or understanding where critical vulnerabilities are.

  • Lead the work on the European Defence Investment Programme (EDIP) through inter-institutional negotiations, and increase the budget envelope for defence.

  • Ensure progressive integration of Ukraine’s Defence Technological and Industrial Base (DTIB) into EDTIB in view of Ukraine’s future accession to the EU. This would contribute to reconstructing their defence industry and ensuring interoperability with the EU, thus strengthening their capacity to meet European and Ukrainian needs.

  • Adopt a comprehensive approach to security and mainstream security in all policy areas by considering security priorities and creating cross-sectoral synergies at the level of the design and implementation of programmes, projects and means of financing, such as in the economy, climate, and energy, transport, digital, space, cyber, and innovation; to eliminate overlaps and generate economies of scale.


Scale up public and private investment in defence and security by:

  • Assessing and proposing the amount for Europe’s short (by 2025 and 2026) and long-term (by 2030 and 2050) defence investment needs. In doing so, develop several scenarios based on different assumptions and risks, from the absolute minimum to the estimated $357 billion needed to fill the capability gaps for European NATO members in the face of a possible military attack without support from the US.

  • Creating favourable conditions for investment in defence beyond dual-purpose activities and showcasing successful investments in defence through “Defence Roadshows” (high-level events in EU’s capitals). This would facilitate national buy-in from the investment and asset management community to qualify defence as a new investable asset class in Europe to ease access to private capital.

  • Proposing the “Investment Plan for European Defence and Security” (IPEDS) as a single framework that would integrate EU existing funding and financing initiatives in defence and security with new capital injected into the next Multiannual Financial Framework 2027-2034 for this purpose.

  • Based on the principle of reciprocity, partner with the UK, the US, Canada and other countries (including EU candidate countries) whose shared interests - and challenges - increase the competitiveness of EDTIB in critical areas. Such areas include hypersonic weapons, emerging and disruptive technologies (EDTs), and maritime capabilities.


  • Introduce a range of skill-based programmes, at educational establishments in defence industrial areas of Europe to build a skilled workforce.

  • Develop a comprehensive understanding of societal vulnerabilities learned from Ukraine and prepare citizens for all types of emergencies, crises and wars.

  • Enhance the EU’s civilian and defence preparedness and resilience based on a whole-of-government and a whole-of-society approach. The Commissioner should take into account President Niinistö’s report on EU’s preparedness expected in autumn 2024, and coordinate with NATO’s policy on resilience and preparedness.

  • To increase preparedness, engage with the population, train and establish reserve lists of European experts and volunteers to be called at short notice to provide civil defence duties. Such duties could include rescue and evacuation services, first aid, or engineering support in fixing energy grids or railway tracks.


  • Strengthen the human resources of the new Directorate-General (DG) for Defence and Security by moving some existing staff from other DGs and the European Defence Agency (EDA), and by recruiting new staff from industry and the member states.

  • Head the EDA, support the HRVP/EEAS in engagement with NATO, and coordinate the defence and security portfolio with EEAS, focusing on foreign affairs and external aspects of defence and security.

  • Integrate the different strands of security into one coherent framework, coordinate with all relevant Commissioners (such as climate security, cyber security, energy-digital-transport infrastructure security, space security, research and innovation, economic security, internal market, trade, enlargement and neighbourhood, civil protection and crisis management, migration and home affairs), and liaise with EDA.

  • Forge a common understanding among the EU’s institutions (notably, the European Parliament, Council of the EU, European Investment Bank, and European Economic and Social Committee) about the need to pull the EU’s defence and security agenda in the same direction.

Preparing for the worst

Establishing a European Defence and Security Union is a long-term ambition that can only be realised with the gradual convergence of national defence policies. However, a continued deterioration of the strategic environment on both sides of the Atlantic should hasten that convergence. Additionally, it should reflect the high expectations of the EU citizens: 93% of the EU’s population agree that countries should act together to defend EU territory, and 85% favour the EU’s increased cooperation on defence.

In a deteriorating security environment, the worst possible outcome should be envisioned. For example, if a series of major attacks strike Europe (and Indo-Pacific) across several domains, for example, space, cyber, land, and air, simultaneously at the time when the US is retreating from Europe, and the far right dominates France and/or Germany; options to respond would be slim. In such a scenario, the Defence and Security Commissioner is needed to provide coherent leadership for a possible merger of national defence policies and capabilities at the level of the EU or among a “coalition of the willing” countries such as the Baltic States, Poland, Nordic countries and the UK.

If the US withdraws from Europe, the new Commissioner would complement the HRVP/EEAS and NATO’s Secretary General on the assessment of invoking NATO’s Article 5 by the European members of NATO or triggering EU’s mutual assistance clause under Article 42.7. The one lesson that the war in Ukraine teaches is the importance to imagine the worst-case scenario and be prepared to re-assess strategic options.

Newcomers, new chapters

In executing the above, the build-up of the EU’s defence and security capacities would strengthen NATO and ensure more equitable burden-sharing. If NATO’s Secretary General leads the process of consensus building on the collective defence between North America and Europe. In that case, the task of the new EU Commissioner should be to ensure that Europe has the adequate industrial, financial, and human capacity to strengthen transatlantic security by providing for its own defence.

At a time when the far-right is surging at home and an aggressive Moscow is propped up by Beijing, Teheran and Pyongyang; the new Defence and Security Commissioner should support the HRVP/EEAS in building defence capabilities, resilience and ensuring interoperability in coordination with NATO.

The new Commissioner, HRVP/EEAS, and the new NATO Secretary General need to seize the momentum of their incoming mandates and harness inter-institutional synergies around matters of common concern such as defence, cyber-security, EDTs, infrastructure security, climate security, resilience and civil preparedness, assistance to Ukraine and other key partners such as Moldova. Such synergies would forge greater common understanding and interaction between the EU and NATO staff.

To facilitate this, the opening of Permanent Offices or Delegations in each other’s Headquarters could be envisioned to foster institutional alignment, closer staff-to-staff exchanges and intelligence sharing. Accordingly, the EU and NATO would also progressively rid themselves of the illusion of each other’s grandeur and exceptionalism - a myth that currently plays into the hands of Russia at a time when both institutions should be working towards a common goal of peace and security.

With the rise of the far-right in Europe, it is time to build a sustainable EDTIB fit for the age of war and consolidate different strands of security. This way, the EU would take more burden sharing responsibility for its own security and complement NATO. The proposed Commissioner for Defence and Security should make it a top priority to do everything that is needed to give Europe and its citizens the tools and skills they need to deal with the threat.

Maria Martisiute is a Policy Analyst at the European Policy Centre focusing on transnationalisation and strategic analysis.

The support the European Policy Centre receives for its ongoing operations, or specifically for its publications, does not constitute an endorsement of their contents, which reflect the views of the authors only. Supporters and partners cannot be held responsible for any use that may be made of the information contained therein.

Photo credits:
AFP/ Vasily Maximov

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