The Congress on European Security and Defence which took place in Berlin (2-3 December 2014) dealt with the current crisis situation in the EU’s neighbouring countries and regions, such as Middle East, North Africa and Ukraine. The latter was in particular the focus of many discussions, with the Russian Ambassador Anvar Asimov defending the Russian line. The conference furthermore stressed aspects of defence and armament cooperation, seen more and more as an imperative of European defence and security in times of further political integration. Budget cuts and reduced staff were also at the centre of attention.
Debate not only centred on which European or transatlantic framework this cooperation takes place and what current threats to European security are, but also questions were also raised on how European industrial defence cooperation and strategic partnerships can be developed. Ismet Yilmaz, the Turkish defence minister, and Pietro Benassi, the Italian ambassador to Germany, opened the conference. The Republic of Turkey, an EU candidate country and member of NATO, was this year’s conference partner, whereas Italy holds the presidency of the Council of the EU until the end of 2014.
In different simultaneous panels participants discussed concrete issues such as cyber threats, interoperability or protection of military staff, from the use of specific protective materials for clothes or helmets to a more global approach taking into account the point of view and needs of the military staff. These require facilitating missions for soldiers through meeting certain equipment needs, providing appropriate training, family care in case of hardship as well as working conditions before, during and after the missions.
Many speakers stressed the importance of European defence to complement, not substitute to NATO. Whereas Europe could react more swiftly and with more flexibility to smaller threats and preventing escalation, NATO could intervene when situations deteriorate. However, it has to be clear that the security challenges in question come at a cost for member states and taxpayers. More funding than is currently in place would be needed with security being the prerequisite for freedom and any other policy to develop.
Speakers and panellists such as former French Defence Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie, the chief executive of the European Defence Agency, Claude-France Arnould, the Chief of the EU Military Staff Lieutenant General, Wolfgang Wosolsobe, and the Chairman of the EU Military Committee, General Patrick de Rousiers, were only some of the high-ranking invitees of the conference, as well as representatives and security and defence experts of both the European and German Parliament (Bundestag). CESI’s Defence Trade Council was represented by the Secretariat General.