Portugal’s key position in European Defense Policy

By Mary karnachoritou

Back in 2000, the first foundation on Europe’s Defense and Security was put into place in the small Portuguese town of Feira under Portugal’s presidency of the council of the EU. The Feira agreement would constitute the basis for the European Security Strategy and later on for the large civilian and military mission under the CSDP umbrella. In June 2020 the German presidency introduced the “Strategic Compass” concept aiming to transform the EU into a more effective international actor. The “Strategic Compass” which is based mainly on the “Comprehensive Threat Assessment”, is a new concept, aiming to bring forth a new political direction by providing answers to political questions within the European defense cooperation sector. The main characteristic of this agenda is its general nature that entails less technical provisions, thus enabling the Member States to embrace it more easily. One of its biggest assets is that it allows a degree of further contextualization of the EU’s defensive future. In other words, the strategic compass works as a bridge connecting the Global Strategy 2016 and the CSDP creating a more efficient overview and control of the security situation in Europe and its implementation.

Once again crucial steps regarding the CSDP are made under Portugal’s Council Presidency, which is calling to initiate drastic structural changes in the defense and security policy ,hence it is considered a key player in the European arena. In a recent public speech, Portugal’s defense minister Joao Gomes Cravinho expressed the country’s priorities towards European foreign policy. In particular, Portugal hopes to reorientate the area of focus of European Defense Identity from land based to the maritime sphere as both Union’s trade interests but also threats stem from the sea. However, Portuguese government’s biggest concern is to introduce a political dialogue on two levels regarding defensive and security issues. The first level is among member states through information exchange and not just based on civilian missions but on a more permanent one. To be more specific, the main purpose is to bring forth a degree of political controversy through political discussions on the sensitive issues of defense and thus result in political contribution. The second level is among third countries which constitutes the major area of commitment of the EU such as the Sahel region, in which the EU is expecting to develop a permanent maritime presence of communication network.

Strategic autonomy is another challenge to be dealt under Portuguese presidency. Particularly, EU-NATO relationships are heading towards more tranquil and cooperative times. Under this atmosphere Portugal wishes to promote a model of EU projection abroad while keeping NATO in chief of defense. In order to succeed, European Defense Identity needs to become well established and deepen further among states. Portugal seeks to develop mechanisms that allow to tackle security problems per region while being in close interaction with its transatlantic partners. NATO is and will remain the cornerstone of the EU’s collective defense, but it is up to the Union to effectively handle the areas that matter the most for it. It is Portugal’s geostrategic position as a maritime state that constitutes it as the appropriate actor. Firstly, its proximity with the areas of interests and its relations with African states, and secondly its undoubtful Atlantic character that adds a level of credibility and insurance to the NATO partners. This combination provides the EU with an unprecedented diplomatic asset but at the same time requires a delicate diplomatic handling so as to preserve the fragile balance of the NATO partnership. All in all, Portugal by re-establishing the area of focus to the sea, is in position of reshaping the rules of the defensive game while showing a new path towards security integration. The central purpose is a strengthened CSDP with a civilian-military integrated mission supported strongly by the political factor. Will it be able however to correspond to such a huge task or the intergovernmental voices within the Union will gain ground and finally sabotage the shaping of a concrete strategic autonomy? Portugal’s presidency semester has just begun and the main question which rests to be answered is what kind of security and defense actor the EU wishes to become and how far it wishes to go.

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