The European defence is not only a defence policy, nor the protection of territory. It is above all a political project, in constant evolution, aimed at asserting Europe’s place in the world, in the service of its foreign policy.

This project is based on a decision-making structure that allows the EU to carry out crisis management operations, and which now wants to fully support the defence industry.

To understand how this European defence works, you have to know its key players.

In this background paper, Sierra Tango explains the role and competencies of European institutions.

The European Parliament

Our third article is dedicated to the European Parliament, the directly elected parliamentary body of the European Union.

A mainly advisory role

The general powers of the EU Parliament cover three areas: legislative, budgetary, control and democratic scrutiny. The maximum expression of the latter is the hearings of the candidate Commissioners during the formation of a new European Commission). 

Thanks to the co-decision procedure, enshrined in the Lisbon Treaty, the Parliament has a legislative role on an equal footing with the Council of the European Union. Together, the two institutions negotiate and adopt the Union’s legislation on the basis of proposals from the European Commission. This now covers 45 new areas of legislation (ranging from the single market to migration policy, justice and internal security).

However, in the area of foreign, security and defence policy, the power lies with the member states.

The  EU Parliament’s role is rather limited. When decisions are taken on the adoption of economic or individual sanctions, the launching of CSDP missions and operations, or political guidelines for strengthening defence capabilities, the Parliament is merely informed.

In this sense, Article 36 of the Treaty of the Union imposes an obligation to regularly inform EU Parliament on EU security and defence issues and gives the institution a mandate for scrutiny and consultation.

Specifically, « the European Parliament may address questions or recommendations to the Council or the High Representative. Twice a year, it shall hold a debate on the progress made in implementing the common foreign and security policy, including the common security and defence policy, » Article 36 states.

A limited role for defence affairs

The limited role given to the EU Parliament by the Treaty in this area is illustrated by the fact that a simple subcommittee is responsible for defence and security (known as “SEDE subcommittee”). Its room for manoeuvre is limited by the Foreign Affairs Committee (AFET), which has a supervisory role and sets the agenda. 

Still, the SEDE subcommittee regularly organizes public hearings, exchanges of views, workshops or committees analyses. The MEPs also make visits to the area or region they are working on.

One of the great moments every year is undoubtedly the adoption of the European Parliament’s annual report on the implementation of the European Security and Defence Policy, echoing the report adopted by the Member States.

It is an opportunity for MEPs to set out their vision, highlight certain issues and make recommendations. In the report adopted on January 18, MEPs stressed the need to make full use of EU initiatives and budgets in order to “fill critical capability gaps and ensure the rapid deployability of armed forces, replenish stocks, reduce fragmentation in the defence procurement sector” and strengthen the supply chains of the European Defence Technological and Industrial Base.   

However, this report does not receive much attention outside the highly specialised press. 


Budgetary and industrial control as a real instrument of influence

It is in budgetary matters that the European Parliament has its say. A role that it has learnt to use to make the most of. In particular, it negotiates, with the Council of the EU, the multiannual financial framework and its chapter on the EU’s “external relations” as well as the annual budgets. 

For industrial or “internal market” aspects, the Parliament plays a full role in the co-decision procedure on texts governing defence contracts, equipment transfers (especially those for dual use) or the creation of instruments such as the European Defence Fund (EDF) or EDIRPA. However, in the case of the EDF, the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) was the committee designated (“in substance”) to draft the regulation.

The SEDE subcommittee did not participate in the substance, as the EDF is anchored in industry and not in defence. The same applies to EDIRPA, for which the Budget Committee (BUDG) took the lead, with the AFET Committee designated for opinion. 

Although the SEDE subcommittee was, therefore, not involved in the legislative process surrounding such important elements as the European Defence Fund, the European Parliament brought its full weight to bear in the negotiations. The Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance succeeded in banning the financing of lethal autonomous weapons systems, so-called killer robots, through the EDF.