Will Portugal fix EU’s defence and security policy?

By Tobias Pietz

Santa Maria da Feira is a county seat in northern Portugal with a listed historic centre and an impressive 16th century fort.

But for the European Union’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), however, ‘Feira’ is much more.

In June 2000, the European Council met in Feira under the then Portuguese EU Council presidency and took key decisions on the further structural and substantive design of the European Union’s military and civilian crisis management operations.

Since then, the tasks of civilian CSDP missions have been referred to as “Feira Priorities”: police, rule of law, civil administration, and civil protection.

With the exception of civil protection, all tasks have already been implemented in a number of civilian missions. Monitoring of ceasefire agreements and lines of contact between warring parties, support to EU special representatives, security sector reform (SSR), and disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration (DDR) of ex-combatants were added later.

With the civilian CSDP Compact in 2018, potential lines of operation such as ones “related to irregular migration, hybrid threats, cybersecurity, terrorism and radicalisation, organised crime, border management and maritime security, and preventing and countering violent extremism” were added.

Since 2020, climate security and, after the outbreak of corona, pandemic response have also been discussed as potential tasks for civilian CSDP.

Unfortunately, the increase in theoretically possible tasks and mandates for European crisis operations could not prevent civilian missions – just like military ones – from struggling with a lack of commitment and declining interest on the part of member states, especially since the Lisbon Treaty….

The question of whether CSDP should focus on territorial defence and the protection of Europe or be used primarily for external crisis management also requires fundamental clarification – and, building on this, a structural reorganisation of the security and defence institutions in Brussels.

The Feira meeting more than two decades ago, in a series with predecessor and successor meetings in Cologne and Gothenburg, was characterised by a spirit of optimism and a strong will on the part of the EU member states to shape foreign and security policy.

The Common Security and Defence Policy can make good use of this “Feira spirit” this year – Portugal could provide an important impetus for this with a renewed meeting in Santa Maria da Feira in early summer.

The rest of the article can be read on the EUObserver, and found on this link:


Tobias Pietz is deputy head of analysis at the Berlin-based Center for International Peace Operations.