Munich Security Report 2017

EU: Brussels’ Clout

“The purpose, even existence, of our Union is being questioned” at a time when “our citizens and the world need a strong European Union like never before,”1 EU High Representative Federica Mogherini said in June, summarizing the core of the EU’s tragic dilemma. The past year has seen the rise of populist, anti-EU forces across the Union, culminating with the Brexit vote in June. The UK’s decision reversed the development toward an “ever closer union” and created a precedent other countries could follow. At the same time, Europe is faced with a wide array of threats, which most experts say can best be tackled through joint European responses. Challenges not only include the ongoing crisis with Russia in the East, protracted wars to the South, or Islamist terrorist attacks in the heart of European cities, but also the uncertainty about the transatlantic security partnership and about the United States’ commitment to European security. 

Up to 30% of annual European defense investment could potentially be saved through pooling of procurement.9


Over the past months, this has brought more and more Europeans to recognize the need for a strong European Union. Since the British referendum, a mood of “Regrexit” is starting to spread. Across Europe, EU approval ratings have risen to over 60%.2 Particularly when it comes to the EU’s role in the world, a clear majority of EU citizens is now calling for greater engagement.3 If the EU wants to prove to itself and to its skeptics in and outside Europe that it is capable of being a “super-power that believes in multilateralism and in cooperation,”4 as Federica Mogherini recently put it, a common foreign policy strategy backed with sufficient military power is widely seen as a strategic necessity. In many European capitals, this has already triggered a trend reversal in defense expenditures. According to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, 2017 will be “the third consecutive year of increased defense spending in Europe.”5 Although an average of 1.46 percent of GDP spent on defense in European NATO member states6 is still far from the Alliance’s 2-percent goal, a new consensus is emerging: “Europe can no longer afford to piggyback on the military might of others,”7 Commission President Jean- Claude Juncker acknowledged in September. 

In order to improve joint foreign and security policy making, the EU not only presented a new Global Strategy but has also taken a bundle of concrete measures to boost European cooperation in security and defense as part of the EU Security and Defense Package.8 Other ideas include a European semester on defense, a “Schengen of Defense,” as well as the highly controversial notion of a “European Army.” 

Whether the new momentum will translate into a truly new level of EU cooperation will primarily depend on the member states themselves. Besides having to fill the new framework with policies and instruments, EU countries will have to set aside their differences, including concerns that the new plans will divert resources away from NATO. But when, if not now, should Brussels’ clout in the world ever be on top of the menu? 


  1. Federica Mogherini, “Shared Vision, Common Action: A Stronger Europe,” European External Action Service, 28 June 2016,, p. 3. 
  2. Bertelsmann Stiftung, “flashlight europe: Brexit Has Raised Support for the European Union,” 21 November 2016,
  3. Pew Research Center, “Europeans Face the World Divided,” 13 June 2016,
  4. Federica Mogherini, “Opening Speech by High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini at the 2016 EDA Conference,” European External Action Service, 10 November 2016,
  5. Jens Stoltenberg, “Now Is Not the Time for the US to Abandon NATO – Nor Should Its European Allies Go It Alone,” The Guardian, 12 November 2016,
  6. NATO, “Defence Expenditures of NATO Countries (2009-2016),” 4 July 2016,
  7. Jean-Claude Juncker, “State of the Union Address 2016: Towards a Better Europe – A Europe That Protects, Empowers and Defends,” European Commission, 14 September 2016,
  8. See European Union, “Shared Vision, Common Action: A Stronger Europe,” 28 June 2016,; European External Action Service, “EU Global Strategy Implementation Plan on Security and Defence,” 17 November 2016,; European Commission, “European Defence Action Plan: Towards a European Defence Fund,” 30 November 2016,; NATO, “Statement on the Implementation of the Joint Declaration Signed by the President of the European Council, the President of the European Commission, and the Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization,” 6 December 2016,
  9. Data provided to MSC by McKinsey. Based on EDA Defence Data (2014), McKinsey weapon system fragmentation analysis as in Munich Security Report 2017, and calculation scheme as published in McKinsey, “The Future of European Defence: Tackling the Productivity Challenge,” 2013,, p. 16. 
  10. See endnote 3. Volunteered categories “About the same” and “No role” not shown. 
  11. See endnote 2. 
  12. Data provided to MSC by IHS Jane’s Defence Budgets. Western Europe = UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Portugal, Austria, Ireland; Eastern Europe = Poland, Greece, Romania, Ukraine, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Lithuania, Estonia, Slovenia, Latvia. 
  13. See endnote 3. Data missing to 100% “DK/refused.”
  14. Data provided to MSC by European Political Strategy Center. Based on data from NATO; International Institute for Strategic Studies; European Defense Agency; Institut de Relations Internationales et Stratégiques; Institut français des relations internationals; Ministry of Defence of Austria; Permanent Representation of Cyprus to the EU; Irish Department of Defence; Ministry of Defence of Finland. Personnel expenditures = pensions paid to retirees; equipment expenditures = major equipment expenditures and R&D devoted to major equipment; infrastructure expenditures = NATO common infrastructure and national military construction: other expenditures = operations and maintenance expenditures, other R&D expenditures and expenditures not allocated among before-mentioned; investment per soldier = defense equipment expenditures per soldier.
  15. Graphic provided to MSC by Center for Security Studies (ETH Zurich). Based on data from German Army and Royal Netherlands Army.
  16. Graphic provided to MSC by Center for Security Studies (ETH Zurich).
  17. Data provided to MSC by McKinsey. Based on expert interviews and International Institute for Strategic Studies “The Military Balance 2016” (data and categories). Data includes the three countries that joined the EDA (Croatia) and the EDA administrative arrangement (Serbia, Ukraine) since 2013.
  18. Data provided to MSC by McKinsey. Europe = EDA members, countries with EDA Administrative Arrange-ments and Denmark. Players in scope = at the given point in time with manufacturing capacity and actively marketing the respective product. License production is included. Joint ventures are not to avoid double counting as in the product categories of the analysis, JV partners maintain own final assembly or product offering. Products in scope = main battle tanks, jet-powered combat aircraft incl. light attack aircraft and bombers, principal surface combatant i.e. frigates or similarly complex vessels like destroyers.