Questions and answers: a background for the Strategic Compass

Strategic Communications

What is the Strategic Compass and what added value does it have?

EU Member States have agreed on a common strategic course of action for security and defence towards a stronger and more capable European Union: the Strategic Compass.

The Strategic Compass provides an analysis of our strategic environment and seeks to bring greater coherence and a strong common sense of purpose to the EU’s security and defence efforts. It is a guide for action, providing concrete proposals and timelines for the coming 5-10 years in four areas:

  • Act more quickly and decisively when facing crises;
  • Secure our citizens against fast-changing threats;
  • Invest in the capabilities and technologies we need;
  • Partner with others to achieve common goals.

The increasingly deteriorating security environment and, in particular, Russia’s unjustified and unprovoked aggression against Ukraine underline the need to strengthen the EU security and defence. In order to tackle the broad range of threats and challenges we are confronted with, we need to step up our capacity to think and act in strategic terms and we need to do this together as Union.

The adoption of the Strategic Compass is a strong signal of unity. EU Member States, for the first time, agree on a common vision with detailed objectives of what they want to be able to achieve in security and defence. It shows their strong resolve to make the EU a more capable actor in security and defence and allows for quicker decision-making. The Compass puts forward concrete proposals, setting out a clear route for their implementation along specific timelines.

This is the result of a process that has allowed Member States to strengthen their common understanding of the threats and challenges we face and how to tackle them. Over the past two years, Member States have engaged in a strategic dialogue on the EU’s role as a security and defence actor. This is a major step towards a common strategic culture.

What is new in the Strategic Compass?

For the first time, Member States have adopted a strategic document with a common vision and detailed objectives on EU security and defence.

On substance, the Strategic Compass proposes several concrete actions in four domains (ACT, SECURE, INVEST and PARTNER). The most important and new elements are:

  1. Developing an EU Rapid Deployment Capacity, consisting of up to 5,000 troops that can be tailored and swiftly deployed for different types of crises;
  2. Organising regular live exercises to increase the interoperability and readiness of our armed forces;
  3. Creating an EU Hybrid Toolbox that brings together different instruments to detect, prepare for, and respond in a coordinated manner to a broad range of hybrid threats. In parallel, we will also develop a dedicated toolbox to address and counter foreign information manipulation and interference;
  4. Further developing the EU’s Cyber Defence Policy to be better prepared for and protect against cyberattacks;
  5. Developing an EU Space Strategy for security and defence to strengthen our resilience and react better and faster to crises;
  6. Developing and investing in next generation capabilities as well as the necessary strategic enablers, in particular also through collaborative capability development and joint procurement;
  7. Committing to invest more and better, investing in technological innovation for defence and create a new Defence Innovation Hub within the European Defence Agency;
  8. Reinforcing multilateral partnerships, in particular with NATO and the UN, through more structured political dialogues as well as operational cooperation;
  9. Boosting cooperation with bilateral partners, in particular the United States, Norway and Canada, the UK and Japan;
  10. Developing tailored partnerships in the Western Balkans, our eastern and southern neighbourhood, Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Why does the EU need to increase its capacity to act and how does the Strategic Compass make a difference?

The challenges we are confronted with in our neighbourhood and at global level are multifaceted and often interconnected. The return of war in Europe, increasing global and regional insecurities and crises, the return of power politics, the challenges to the international rules-based order and the proliferation of hybrid campaigns are some of the most worrying developments that directly and indirectly threaten our security. This requires the EU to make a leap forward in its capacity to act, making full use of all existing and new civilian and military instruments at its disposal.

The Strategic Compass defines how we will strengthen our readiness for fast and decisive actions, increase the effectiveness of our civilian and military missions and operations, ensure greater flexibility in our decision-making and bolster our solidarity and mutual assistance against armed aggressions.

What will the EU Rapid Deployment Capacity add to the CSDP toolbox?

We need to be able to rapidly respond to imminent crises outside the Union. This includes the ability to quickly deploy tailored forces for example for initial entry, reinforcement or as a reserve to secure an exit.

This is what the new EU Rapid Deployment Capacity (EU RDC) seeks to achieve. It can be used in different phases of an operation in a non-permissive environment. The EU RDC will consist of substantially modified EU Battlegroups (EUBGs) and of pre-identified Member States’ military forces and capabilities, including strategic enablers. The objective is to have a modular force of up to 5,000 personnel. The substantially modified EUBGs will be used, in combination with the Member States military forces and capabilities, to tailor the EU RDC to the nature of the crisis and to the requirements and objectives of the operation.

Member States will define the exact parameters of the EU RDC by the end of 2022. To that end, operational scenarios will be developed, with possible first live-exercise in 2023. The EU RDC shall be fully operational by 2025.

How will the Strategic Compass increase the effectiveness of CSDP missions and operations?

Our civilian and military missions and operations are the most visible manifestation of our Common Security and Defence Policy. They contribute to security and stability in crises and conflicts in our neighbourhood and beyond. With an increasing focus on training and advisory tasks, they also support our partners’ security and defence structures and increase local ownership. To address the fast evolving geostrategic environment, we must adapt the way we conduct our missions and operations to better respond to the increasing and complex global and regional challenges we are facing.

Through more robust, flexible and modular CSDP missions and operations, we will be able to swiftly adapt to changing circumstances and increase their effectiveness. This comprises for example the possibility for increased accompanying of our partners’ security and defence forces to ensure tailored and lasting effects, or additional training and advice on structural reforms. We will also seek mutual reinforcements of our CSDP missions and operations with European-led ad hoc missions and operations that are operating in the same theatre.

The European Peace Facility is an important element in that regard by allowing us to rapidly provide military assistance to partners to supplement our training efforts.

What are the implications specifically for civilian CSDP?

Civilian CSDP missions contribute to global security abroad and at home. Their aim is to help prevent or resolve conflict and crises, enhance the capacities of partners and, ultimately, protect the European Union and its citizens. By summer 2023, EU Member States will make civilian CSDP more capable, more effective, flexible and responsive and more joined up with other EU instruments in light of the changed security environment. In concrete terms, the EU seeks to be able to deploy 200 civilian experts to a crisis area within 30 days.

The Civilian CSDP Compact adopted in 2018 was a milestone for our civilian CSDP engagement. Member States agreed to step up their contribution to civilian CSDP including through increased deployments to EU civilian missions, by increasing the number of women at all levels, and improving their national systems for secondment.

In the Strategic Compass, Member States have agreed to develop a new Civilian CSDP Compact by early summer 2023 when the current Civilian CSDP Compact shall be fully delivered. Furthermore, a civilian capability development process will be set-up by 2024 to assess the capability needs, develop requirements, conduct a gap analysis and review periodically the progress made in line with the new Civilian CSDP Compact.

How will the Strategic Compass increase the security of our Union and its citizens?

The more hostile security environment requires us to strengthen our resilience by better anticipating, detecting and responding to direct threats to our security.

The Strategic Compass makes concrete proposals to use our tools better to counter hybrid threats as well as to fortify our cyberdefence and cybersecurity and strengthen our capacity to dissuade and counter foreign information manipulation and interference.

In addition, we must be able to secure our access to and presence on the high seas, in the air and in outer space. We aim to further increase our resilience against climate-related risks and human-made and natural disasters while striving towards a carbon climate-neutral EU presence on the ground. We will also strengthen our ability to rescue and evacuate our citizens at risk beyond our borders. All these efforts also contribute to strengthening our solidarity and mutual assistance.

What is the concrete added value of EU hybrid toolbox?

Hybrid attacks and campaigns are often coordinated actions across different domains. There have been, for example, cyber-attacks that have included information manipulation aiming to influence electoral outcome.

To respond in a comprehensive manner to these threats, we need to be ready to mobilise all the tools and instruments that the EU has.

Acting as an overall framework, the EU hybrid toolbox will bring together relevant mechanisms, such as the cyber diplomacy toolbox and the Foreign Information Manipulation and Interference toolbox. It will improve the effectiveness and coherence of different actions, and therefore bring added value to the EU’s capacity to respond to hybrid threats.

How will the EU protect us from cyber attacks and advance a global, open, stable and secure cyberspace?

The EU will further develop the EU’s Cyber Defence Policy to protect, detect, defend and deter against cyberattacks. It will boost research and innovation, promote education and training and increase cooperation among the EU's and Member States' cyber defence actors. It will also strengthen cooperation with like-minded partners in the area of cyber defence, notably NATO.

In addition, the EU will further strengthen its EU Cyber Diplomacy Toolbox and its cyber posture to prevent, deter and respond to cyber-attacks. Further shared situational awareness, additional response measures as well as increased cooperation with like-minded partners will contribute to strengthen the EU’s ability in this regard.

The EU will step up its work to strengthen the rules-based international order, promote international security and stability, and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms online. It will advance international norms and standards that reflect these core values, by working with its international partners in the United Nations and other relevant fora. It will further intensify cyber dialogues with third countries, regional and international organisations as well as the multi-stakeholder community.

How does the Compass address the required investments to ensure that we have all the capabilities necessary to increase our capacity to act and secure our Union?

Our security does not come for free. We have known for a long time that we need step up when it comes to our defence spending. This need is now more urgent than ever.

With the Strategic Compass, Member States have committed to substantially enhance their defence spending, notably by defining, by mid-2022, objectives to increase the defence budgets and to spend them better, notably to reduce the fragmentation and increase interoperability of European capabilities. This will allow them and the Union to match their collective ambition and related needs, increase interoperability, and make use of economies of scale, including through a coordinated and collaborative European approach and the use of EU tools. Especially with the ongoing EU defence initiatives, such as the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) and the European Defence Fund (EDF), we have already laid the groundwork for that.

Additional incentives will be proposed to stimulate Member States’ collaborative investments in strategic defence capabilities, including strategic enablers, notably those that are to be developed and/or jointly procured in EU cooperative frameworks. In that regard, the Strategic Compass includes the initiatives that the Commission has put forward in its Defence package. Member States will work on the Commission´s proposal for a value added tax (VAT) waiver, for new financing solutions, as well as a reinforced European Defence Fund (EDF) bonus system.

What will be the focus of the Strategic Compass in terms of defence capabilities, what will it bring?

The Strategic Compass underlines the need to do more to develop high-end, cutting-edge capabilities to equip full-spectrum military forces.

We will step up our efforts to develop and acquire the needed strategic enablers, such as airlift, air refuelling, helicopters, Intelligence-Surveillance-Reconnaissance, etc. These enablers will facilitate the rapid deployment and sustainment of the necessary forces and capabilities, thus allowing the Union to conduct the full range of missions and operations as set out in its agreed level of ambition, including when using the EU Rapid Deployment Capacity.

The Compass will also guide the work on filling our critical capability gaps and further develop specific strategic capabilities, such as naval unmanned platforms, future air combat and air defence systems, platforms for space based earth observation, communication and navigation, major land platforms and related logistic systems, notably main battle tanks, as well as cyber platforms, including by making use of new technologies.

On the basis of the proposals put forward by the Commission in its Defence Package, further incentives will be developed to stimulate Member States’ collaborative investments in joint projects and joint procurement, including for example a VAT waiver, new financing solutions, or a reinforced bonus EDF system.

The capabilities will remain in the hands of Member States and will continue to be used in national, but also various multinational frameworks, including NATO or the UN.

How does the Strategic Compass link all these issues with our cooperation with partners?

The Strategic Compass emphasises that partnerships are an essential instrument to support the EU’s ambition to be global strategic player and to respond to the profound security shifts currently underway. Our partners will also benefit from a stronger and more capable EU in security and defence. Closer strategic cooperation with NATO and UN will be of utmost importance in this regard. The EU will also seek to boost its engagement with regional organisations such as the OSCE, the African Union and ASEAN.

The Strategic Compass also puts forward a range of policy initiatives and suggestions on how to engage more coherently, consistently and comprehensively with bilateral partners around the world. This engagement will be based on shared values and interests and tailored to reflect the intensity and specific characteristics of our existing relationships. Partnerships will be further developed in a way which is coherent with existing policy frameworks, whether that be in the Western Balkans, our Eastern and Southern neighbourhoods, Indo-Pacific or with the African continent.

Our bilateral partnerships will be organised around three key areas of cooperation: dialogue and cooperation on security and defence; participation of third countries in CSDP missions and operations; and supporting partners in building capacities. The EU has a long track-record of working alongside partners and we actively seek their participation in civilian and military CSDP missions and operations.

How does the Strategic Compass relate to NATO?

The current crisis has shown again how important EU-NATO cooperation is. More importantly, it has demonstrated how well EU and NATO already cooperate in reality.

The Strategic Compass clearly states the importance of our strategic partnership with NATO, and seeks to further strengthen it. The need to ensure coherence, close coordination and mutual complementarity of efforts is even more evident today, under current circumstances.

Building on the unprecedented progress achieved in the implementation of the 2016 and 2018 Joint Declarations, the Strategic Compass puts forward an array of concrete and ambitious suggestions as to how to strengthen our mutually-reinforcing and beneficial partnership.

These proposals aim at intensifying our political dialogue, including through enhanced information exchange and joint high-level meetings, statements and visits. In addition, more concrete actions for cooperation will be explored in the areas of exercises, situational awareness, military mobility, crisis management operations, maritime security, countering hybrid threats, cyber-attacks and disinformation, as well as the implementation of Women, Peace and Security agenda. Finally, the Compass aims at further expanding cooperation to new areas, such as Emerging Disruptive Technologies, climate change, resilience and space.

How does the Strategic Compass relate to the United Nations?

The Strategic Compass clearly states that to uphold rules-based multilateralism and the principles of the UN Charter, we must strengthen our strategic partnership with the United Nations (UN).

To this end, we will ensure coherence with the UN’s actions in the area of peace and security. Through our civilian and military missions and operations, we are working together with the UN in many theatres but we can do more to help reinforce, bridge or complement UN tasks and missions. In this regard, we will strengthen our strategic partnership with the UN on peace operations and crisis management, including through the implementation of the new joint set of priorities on peace operations and crisis management for 2022-2024.[1]

If the EU and UN are to meet the challenges of the future, a more dynamic approach to early warning, conflict prevention and mediation is required. Structured exchange of information, joint horizon scanning, strategic foresight and gender responsive conflict analyses can help us make best use of our knowledge and expertise. This is important if we are to respond to new and emerging challenges such as climate change, pandemics, terrorism, organised crime, emerging and disruptive technologies and hybrid threats, including cyberattacks and disinformation.

How does the Strategic Compass address the ongoing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine?

The work on the Strategic Compass was launched before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and reflects the multitude and complexity of the threats and challenges the EU faces at home and abroad. The Compass provides a long-term, strategic and global guidance for EU security and defence. At the same time, the Compass also clearly reflects the latest developments related to Russia’s unjustified and unprovoked aggression against Ukraine as well as Russia’s wider destabilising role in other parts of the world. Against this background, it formulates guidance for what the EU should be capable of in the areas of security and defence.

In the current crisis, Member States stand united both in their support to Ukraine and in their broader commitments to increase the EU’s resilience and its ability to act. To that end, the EU has not only supported Ukraine in political, financial, economic and social terms. The EU has also offered an unprecedented package of military support under the European Peace Facility, including lethal equipment.

In addition to a significantly increase in defence spending in light of current events, the Compass makes additional concrete suggestions to reflect the current geostrategic environment. We will, amongst others, develop a hybrid toolbox, strengthen our tools to fight cyberattacks and disinformation campaigns, and increase military mobility within and beyond the EU. We will increase our support to eastern partners and strengthen our strategic partnership with NATO and the UN, as well as with partner countries such as the US, Canada, Norway, UK and Japan.

What will happen now?

The return of war in Europe as well as the manifold threats and challenges in the global security environment call for immediate implementation. The Strategic Compass proposes concrete actions as well as timelines for their implementation.

The High Representative, in consultation with the Commission and the European Defence Agency, will present an annual report on the progress made.

The Council and the European Council will discuss and review the progress made on a regular basis.

Based on the revised threat analysis in 2025 and on the achievement of key objectives foreseen, the High Representative will present proposals on a possible revision of this Strategic Compass.