EU Elections. New EU citizens priorities: security and defence in the spotlight

María Vallés González
Europe's defence and security has become the main concern of political parties and citizens

Europe’s defence and security has become the main concern of political parties and citizens. Source: European Defence Agency.

The latest Eurobarometer placed the European Union’s defence and security as the third priority for the European citizens (31% of people surveyed). The European Union External Action identifies uncountable threats for the EU in this area, such as armed conflicts and civil wars to re-emerge in the EU’s neighbourhood, cyber-attacks, hybrid threats, terrorism, disinformation, climate change, and artificial intelligence.

The world under tension

The Strategic Compass of the European Union adopted in 2022 established that the EU is surrounded by instability and conflicts and faces a war on its borders. It sets out that nowadays there is a dangerous mix of armed aggression, illegal annexation, fragile states, revisionist powers and authoritarian regimes. This environment is a seedbed for multiple threats to European security from terrorism, violent extremism and organised crime to hybrid conflicts and cyber-attacks, instrumentalisation of irregular migration, arms proliferation and the progressive weakening of the arms control architecture. 

The Western Balkans region continues to face security challenges and its stability is not a fact. It is in the particular interest of the EU to support the sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina. In the eastern neighbourhood, Ukraine is being directly attacked by the Russian armed forces.

Moreover, the Republic of Moldova, Georgia, and other countries in the South Caucasus are facing strategic intimidations, and direct threats to their sovereignty and territorial integrity and are trapped in protracted conflicts. Belarus’s authoritarianism is manifested in its use of hybrid warfare against the EU, direct military support for Russia’s actions against Ukraine, and severe domestic repression. In the southern neighbourhood, the crises in Libya and Syria remain unresolved, with lasting and widespread regional consequences. The region is particularly threatened by terrorist movements, human trafficking and organised crime. 

On the other hand, the future of Africa is also of strategic importance to the EU. Ongoing conflicts, poor governance and terrorism across the continent affect the security of the EU. This is the case in Mali, the Sahel region and Central Africa, where instability, terrorist groups, weak state structures, mercenaries and widespread poverty constitute a dangerous mix and require increased EU engagement. Stability in the Gulf of Guinea, the Horn of Africa and the Mozambique Channel remains an important security imperative for the EU.

Josep Borrell, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, speaks during a press briefing at the European Union Military Assistance Mission (EUMAM) training mission centre. Source: The Financial Times

In the Middle East and Gulf Region, addressing nuclear non-proliferation challenges in the region remains of capital importance. The region’s efforts in addressing violent extremism will also be of crucial importance for the global fight against terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda and Daesh. Afghanistan continues to pose serious security challenges in terms of terrorism, drug smuggling and growing irregular migration challenges.

Furthermore, in East Asia, actors such as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) continue to threaten regional and international peace and security through weapons of mass destruction and their nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.

Two years after the publication of the Strategic Compass, global tensions have not abated. On the contrary, the conflict between Ukraine and Russia shows no signs of resolution, while the resurgence of the Middle East conflict between Israel and Palestine has reignited simmering tensions. The world appears more threatened than ever in recent times.

The return of war in Europe: the awakening of old fears?

Josep Borrell was interviewed by Spanish media days before the EU elections. The High Representative pointed out that the EU’s three current challenges are the geopolitical threat, the economic-technological risks and the challenge of democratic quality. The first falls within his sphere of competence, he states that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been something of a ‘slap in the face’ for Europe. In his view, this has been an awakening. The war was a distant and distant thing that did not affect us, and suddenly some Europeans, such as the Poles or the Baltics, saw it just a few kilometres from their borders. It is therefore necessary, as part of this awakening, to address Europe’s defence capabilities.

“Everybody prefers, and so do I, to spend money on butter, as they said in the First World War: “better butter than cannons”. But sometimes, if you don’t have cannons, you also run out of butter”

Josep Borrell, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy

Josep Borrell (HR/VP), interviewed by Informativos Telecinco (Spain) in an armaments manufacturing plant, surrounded by armoured vehicles and artillery systems. Source: Informativos Telecinco

He said that the voters would decide in the European elections which political forces would call for more integration and collaboration, and which would prefer to return to national frameworks and did not want to act together. In this respect, he said that all European countries, even the largest, are too small to play alone. Only if countries unite and share will they have the weight and size to make a difference. He concluded: “If you are not at the table, you are on the menu. And it is better to be at the table than not to be on the menu”.

Which are the positions of the EU political groups on security and defence?

Defence played an important role in the programmes of the political parties contesting the European elections. Despite the differences between the parties, there was a common denominator: peace is at risk. In this sense, the European People’s Party electoral platform includes more expansive measures in the defence sector, going so far as to propose the creation of a European army. On the other hand, the Socialists and Renew are pushing for new investments in industrial production, while the Conservatives oppose joint armed forces. The European left presented a programme against investing more in defence and proposed a reduction in the percentage of GDP devoted to defence.

Analysis of the defence positions of the political parties. Source: adapted by the author based on EU News-GitHub’s image


The EU faces many challenges in ensuring its security and defence. But it was, undoubtedly, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, or the conflict in Gaza, that triggered citizens and political parties to become aware of the problem and start working to secure peace. The question is not a minor one: what formula will the EU use for this task? The proposals that politicians brought to the last European elections seem to indicate that there is fear in Europe, and in the face of fear, there is a desire for weapons. But, is another Europe possible? More diplomacy and fewer weapons? Or, perhaps Macron was right when he stated, “We have undoubtedly been too hesitant by defining the limits of our action to someone who no longer has any and who is the aggressor.”

For further thought:

  • Is this increase in armaments related to the rise of extreme right-wing parties in Europe?
  • Is it possible to create a strategic defence industry without undermining social policies?
  • With the current composition of the European Parliament, will it be possible to continue with previous strategies based on strategic EU autonomy?

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EU Elections. New EU citi…

by María Vallés González time to read: 5 min