The highlights of the European defence in 2023

The highlights of the European defence in 2023

If 2022 was a turning point for European defence, the subject will remain at the top of the European agenda for the year to come, as shown by the conclusions of the European Council last December.

Sierra Tango summarizes the different elements that will be at EU top priority.


Security assistance to Ukraine and industrial tensions with the United States will be just as essential as the ability of Europeans not to forget its long-term projects, nor the threats that come from its southern neighbourhood.

Increase the ceiling of the European Peace Facility?

The European Peace Facility, set up very discreetly in July 2020, comes out of 2022 completely transformed. Intended to prudently finance equipment (especially non-lethal) for third countries, it has become the main instrument for supplying lethal weapons to Ukraine. In ten months, 3 billion Euros have been committed. The commitment was so intense that it required an increase in the ceiling of the Facility, with however limited ambition due to disagreements between Member States. A new revision of the ceilings could be at the heart of the debates in 2023 if the war continues and with it, the pace of European aid. Especially since the needs of other partners (Niger, Mozambique, etc.) are not diminishing.

Testing the ambition of the strategic compass

In March 2023, the EU will celebrate the first anniversary of the Strategic Compass. This European defence white paper is accompanied by a roadmap with specific objectives to be achieved by 2030. Some of which must already be achieved in 2023. In addition to an update of the threat analysis, the Swedish Presidency of the Council of the EU plans, during the first half of the year, to advance discussions on the establishment of more agile decision-making processes for CFSP and CSDP, including the option of qualified majority voting. The second semester will be notable for the first wave of real EU exercises for its rapid deployment capability.

Preserving the transatlantic relationship

While the war in Ukraine has brought the EU and NATO closer together, the third joint EU-NATO statement (signed earlier this year) suggests that the two institutions are not fully aligned. Despite its commitment to European security and Ukraine, the US remains focused on China and demands that Europeans do more, especially on the resilience of their infrastructure. While refusing to be excluded from European projects such as PESCO or EDIRPA.

Take a look at the southern neighbourhood

The February 2021 call from the European Commission to relaunch the partnership with the southern neighbourhood has not been followed up, in particular, because all the attention has been focused on the eastern flank of Europe. In 2023, the EU is likely to be reminded of the growing threats and emergencies in the southern neighbourhood. Whether it’s the growing instability in the Sahel caused by the threat of terrorism, the massive famines in Ethiopia and Somalia, or the possible resumption of conflict in Yemen and Syria. At the same time, the question of the future of CSDP missions and operations in these regions will arise.

Maritime Strategy

Among the topics to follow will also be the publication of the European Union’s maritime security strategy by the European Commission, announced in March 2023. Updating the current strategy dating back to 2014, the new document should notably clarify the European ambition in terms of maritime security in the Indo-Pacific, and also the will of Europeans to engage — or not — in geopolitical contexts marked by heightened tensions.


Since 2017, the European Union has been laying the foundations for cross-border and EU-wide cooperation in Defence Research and Development with PESCO and the European Defence Fund. It is now a question of moving up a gear to sustainably strengthen the European defence industrial base (EDIB) affected by the support effort for Ukraine and the tensions with the American ally.


The weak commitment of the 27 largely explains the too modest progress of PESCO (permanent structured cooperation which allows simplified cooperation for industrial, capacity or operational projects) five years after its launch. The latest progress report produced by the High Representative of the EU in July 2022 is quite negative.

The coming year will be an opportunity for the Member States to put in place the recommendations: cooperate better together, contribute more to CSDP missions/operations, better honour the commitments made jointly, and have PESCO projects more efficient. 2023 will also be notable for the integration of new third countries into PESCO projects, especially military mobility.

The European Defence Fund at full capacity

Adopted in April 2021, the European Defence Fund, intended to finance the research and development of European industrial programs, is now operating at full speed. Over the next six months, experts from the European Commission will have to select the second wave of projects, following a three-step process (admissibility, technical evaluation and deliberations).

In parallel, part of the staff must prepare the next call for proposals and the work program for 2023 (expected in the spring).

The launch of EDIRPA

2023 should also see the birth of the fund for the joint acquisition of defence equipment (EDIRPA in English), thought as a response to the melting of European stocks to support Ukraine. In May 2022, the European Commission proposed to provide it with a budget of 500 million euros for two years. If the Member States have already adopted their position, the timetable has already been postponed and remains uncertain.

The objective is to have an agreement before the end of the year, but the trilogues promise to be tense while the first deliberations of the European Parliament point to a risk of reducing the second dimension of the EDIRPA, that of investment in the European industrial base. Especially since the trend is not towards the purchase of European equipment as the EDIRPA would like, to become a key to European strategic autonomy. Germany and Finland have recently opted for American combat aircraft.

Laying a good foundation for EDIP

The final shape that will be given to the EDIRPA is essential because it will lay the foundations for a monitoring tool called the European Defense Investment Program (EDIP), which focuses on the long term with a larger budget. The European Commission’s proposal is expected in June 2023, to then launch the internal negotiations of the co-legislators.

According to preliminary information, the regulation to come should further reduce the obstacles to joint acquisitions thanks to a VAT exemption. The exemption is only granted to procurement programs presented by a European Defense Capabilities Consortium composed of at least three Member States to acquire collaboratively developed capabilities within the EU.