EU: the Coordinated Annual Review of Defence

In November 2020, the European Defence Agency released the final report of the first full CARD cycle (2019-2020). It represents an important step forward towards a closer cooperation at the EU level in the field of security and defence.

Pierluigi Barberini Pierluigi Barberini

European Commission vice-president Josep Borrell speaks during a news conference on the EU's cybersecurity strategy, in Brussels, Belgium December 16, 2020. Kenzo Tribouillard/Pool via REUTERS

In the November 2016 Council of the European Union conclusions on implementing the EU Global Strategy in the field of security and defence, Member States decided to push forward defence cooperation by establishing a Coordinated Annual Review on Defence (CARD).

CARD is a cyclic annual review of the European defence landscape, based on a permanent dialogue between the EU Member States and the EU institutions. The ultimate goal of CARD is to provide a comprehensive picture of the current status of European defence capabilities and to identify areas of potential cooperation. In this sense, CARD aims at improving coherence and consistency between the national defence programmes of EU Member States, in order to reduce fragmentation and to engage in a more organic, structured and coherent approach in security and defence cooperation.

The history of CARD

CARD was officially established by the Council in 2017, starting with a “trial run” involving all Member States as of autumn 2017. The European Defence Agency (EDA), acting as CARD Secretariat, began to collect information already made available by Member States with regard to defence expenditure and capability development. Bilateral dialogues between the EDA and the EU Military Staff (EUMS) with each Member State were therefore held in order to complete the information-gathering process. Once bilateral dialogues were concluded, EDA analyzed the collected data in order to identify trends in defence spending as well as opportunities for defence cooperation. The final “CARD Trial Run Report” was presented and discussed again with Member States in 2018.

In 2019-2020, the first full CARD cycle took place, with the final report presented to Defence Ministers in November 2020.

What the 2020 CARD Final Report says

The 2020 CARD Final Report identifies a total of 55 collaborative opportunities in capability development in all operational domains considered most promising, most needed or most pressing. Moreover, 56 options to cooperate in the field of R&T (Research & Technology) have been identified as well.

In particular, these 55 collaborative opportunities span six “focus areas”, which are:

  • Main Battle Tanks (MBT)
  • Soldier Systems
  • European Patrol Class Surface Ships
  • Counter Unmanned Aerial Systems (Counter-UAS) and Anti Access/Area Denial (A2/AD)
  • Defence application in Space
  • Military Mobility

The related 56 collaboration opportunities in R&T focus on artificial intelligence (AI), cyber defence, unmanned systems, robotics, new sensors, emerging materials and energy efficient propulsion systems.

It is also worth mentioning that such collaborative opportunities require cross-border industrial cooperation, with positive effects on the competitiveness and growth of the European Defence Technology and Industrial Base (EDTIB).

CARD as part of a broader security and defence package

CARD is part of a comprehensive package of initiatives in the field of security and defence launched by the EU under the Juncker Commission, composed of the Capability Development Plan (CDP), CARD, the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) and the European Defence Fund (EDF).

In brief, CDP provides the full picture of capabilities in order to support decision-making processes at EU and national levels with regard to military capability development; CARD gives an overview of the current status of capabilities development and identifies priorities as well as opportunities for defence cooperation at the EU level; PESCO provides the tools to make such cooperation concrete, focusing on common projects between EU Member States in order to develop joint defence capabilities; EDF provides the economic resources to support the actual implementation of collaborative defence projects (with an added bonus if they are in PESCO).

Future prospects for defence cooperation in Europe

As outlined in the Final CARD report, the European defence landscape continues to be fragmented, lacking coherence in several aspects, including defence development capabilities. Despite recent initiatives implemented by the EU, national defence interests continue to prevail, leading to different approaches and priorities with regards to security and defence. Such a circumstance should not come as a surprise since EU common defence initiatives are too recent to have a significant and positive impact on the European defence scenario.

The de-fragmentation of the European defence landscape requires coordinated, continuous and structured efforts over a long period of time; the road is traced, but there is still much work to be done.

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