January 28th 2022

Growing geopolitical tensions and uncertainty about global partnerships have led European Union member states to pursue strategic autonomy and more effectiveness in foreign, security and defence policymaking. However, the EU framework continues to provide limited opportunities for quick diplomatic moves, rapid interventions, or deeper cooperation between European armies. The Finnish Institute of International Affairs (FIIA) organized an EU Idea roundtable session for Finnish policy planners to discuss pros and cons of flexible cooperation in EU foreign, security and defence policies with researchers from the EU Idea Horizon project. The closed roundtable discussion “Cores of cooperation in the European foreign, security and defence policy” took place on Friday 28 January 2022 under the Chatham house rule on the MS Teams communication platform.

The roundtable was opened by Programme Director Juha Jokela from FIIA with a short introduction to the EU Idea research project. Research presentations were delivered by Pol Morillas, Director of the Barcelona Centre for International Affairs, Marco Siddi, Senior Research Fellow at FIIA, Senem Aydın-Düzgit, Professor of International Relations at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the Sabanci University, Ian Bond, Director of Foreign Policy at the Centre for European Reform, and Tyyne Karjalainen, Research Fellow at FIIA. Participants of the session were more than 50, including Finnish policymakers and officials from the Parliament, Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Defence, Prime Minister’s Office, Permanent Representations, and Embassies among others. In addition to the EU Idea researchers, also researchers from Finnish Universities joined the session.

Comment speeches were delivered by high-level Finnish policy-planners and policymakers: by Nils Torvalds, Member of the European Parliament, Sofie From-Emmersberger, Director General for Africa and Middle East at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, Hanna Lehtinen, Ambassador of Finland to EU’s Political and Security Committee in Brussels, Turo Mattila, Chair of the Nicolaidis working group at the Political and Security Committee of the EU and Deputy Head of Division at the European External Action Service, and Ilmari Uljas, Senior Specialist at the Ministry of Defence of Finland.

The event focused on topical developments and challenges in the field of EU’s foreign, security and defence policies. Pros and cons of flexibility in the policy field were discussed, including in terms of foreign policy lead groups, flexible cooperation in defence, and external differentiation. Strategic autonomy of the EU and effective decision making in CFSP and CSDP were some of the cross-cutting topics throughout the debate.

Flexible cooperation in EU foreign, security and defence policies was considered as a relevant topic in the current circumstances of global politics, including the topical worsening of security situation in Europe and the longer-term decreasing engagement by the US in Europe. While cooperating in a unified manner inside the Union was considered as the best default option, differentiation was identified as an opportunity to achieve more effectiveness at the time being.

Challenges of decision-making in EU foreign, security and defence policies gained much attention during the debate, revolving around the question how to develop effectiveness of the EU as a foreign, security and defence policy actor while simultaneously accommodating Member States’ concern of their national interests being overruled. One of the policy options discussed was Qualified Majority Voting. The link between QMV and differentiated integration was analysed.

Foreign policy lead groups such as the Franco-German duo in the Normandy Format were addressed as another option to circumvent obstacles of decision-making in the Union. It was pointed out that lead groups are a way to formulate European foreign policy when there exist none. At the same time, speakers referred to concerns about legitimacy and accountability of the groupings. Coherence with EU foreign policy stances was considered important, while also stronger links to EU institutions were analysed as an option.  From Finland’s point of view, it was noted that European lead groups are an opportunity for it to become connected to international negotiations.

The roundtable discussion also covered alignment and participation of non-member states to EU foreign, security and defence policies. The fact that non-members can only align and contribute to the EU policies but not take part in the decision-making was debated. On one hand, benefits of alignment were considered too unattractive to non-members, while on the other hand, allowing any role for them in the decision-making was considered tricky.

Finally, European defence cooperation was addressed in several speeches. The fact that Finland participates actively in different flexible defence cooperation formats was noted. In addition to treaty-based formats such as PESCO, speakers brought up flexible cooperation in the forms of the UK-led Joint Expeditionary Force, the German-headed Framework Nation Concept and the French-led European Intervention Initiative. The question whether the parallel formats of cooperation create fragmentation or add to unified integration in the future, was debated. Coordination was considered as a key to ensure that the formats complete and do not compete with each other.

Finally, it was noted that research conducted in the EU Idea project resonates well with Finnish practitioners’ daily work on EU foreign, security and defence affairs. As a takeaway from the event, different time horizons of differentiated integration was suggested as a topic to reflect in further research.