On 19 April 2021, the Croatian CEDC Presidency hosted this year’s first meeting of the CEDC Defence Policy Directors, who were joined by the Western Balkans Defence Policy Directors during the first working session. The meeting host, Defence Policy Director of the Ministry of Defence of the Republic of Croatia Mrs Dunja Bujan, expressed her sadness regarding the current COVID-19 related trends and figures in most of the CEDC countries which led to the decision to hold this meeting via videoconference.
The first part of the meeting was dedicated to the presentation of the Croatian CEDC Presidency priorities. These comprise building wider regional resilience to disinformation campaigns and fake news, shaping meaningful and strong partnership with the Western Balkans, as well as providing an effective framework for channelled discussions and reaching common ground on the European security and defence issues, with special emphasis on the Strategic Compass, the European Defence Fund and the European Peace Facility.
During the first session, conducted in the CEDC +Western Balkans format, the heads of delegations exchanged views on the security challenges and concerns in the Western Balkan region, including hybrid challenges and disinformation campaigns facilitated by the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, and steps to be taken in order to foster reforms and advance the Euro-Atlantic integration process.
The CEDC Defence Policy Directors and their Western Balkans counterparts expressed their genuine support for deepening intra-regional cooperation which offers the opportunity to tailor solutions to shared security challenges and advance the EU enlargement process. The consensus was that stable, prosperous Western Balkans, integrated into NATO and EU, is the common goal of both the CEDC and the Western Balkan countries alike.
Noting the growing pro-Russian and pro-Chinese narrative in the region as well as other security challenges, particularly disinformation campaigns, the COVID-19 related economic crisis, migration pressure and foreign terrorist fighters phenomenon, Defence Policy Directors proposed to focus on more efficient information sharing, capacity building and establishing efficient mechanisms to tackle the challenges posed by fake news and disinformation campaigns.
In the following session, the CEDC Defence Policy Directors discussed the current issues related to European Union’s security and defence. In that regard, the discussion was cantered around the on-going work on the Strategic Compass across its four baskets, crisis management, partnerships, capability development and resilience.
Defence Policy Directors also reflected on the progress in the Austrian led “CBRN SaaS” PESCO project, concluding there are further opportunities to be explored for possible joint CEDC projects that could potentially utilize the funds from the European Defence Fund.