European Capabilities Action Plan (ECAP)
At the Helsinki European Council in December 1999, EU member states set
themselves the headline goal of being able, by 2003, to deploy within 60 days and
sustain for at least one year forces up to corps level (60,000 men). One year later, at
the Capabilities Commitment Conference in Brussels, they committed themselves, on
a voluntary basis, to making national contributions to these EU rapid reaction
capabilities. The comparative analysis of both the ‘Helsinki Headline Goal Catalogue’
(specifying the operational requirements for the Petersberg Tasks) and the ‘Force
Catalogue’ (setting out national commitments) revealed considerable shortfalls in
national capability commitments. Among the 38 capability shortfalls identified in the
so-called ‘Helsinki Progress Catalogue’, 21 were evaluated as “significant.”
At the Laeken European Summit in December 2001, the EU Council decided
to launch the European Capabilities Action Plan (ECAP) to address these shortfalls.
From March 2002 onwards, 19 panels of national experts developed possible
solutions. These were:
Attack Helicopters/Support Helicopters
Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Protection (NBC)
Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAV)/Surveillance and Target Acquisition (STA) Units
Medical Role 3/Medical Collective Protection Role 3
Special Operations Forces (SOF)
Carrier Based Air Power
Suppression of Enemy Air Defence (SEAD)
Air-to-Air Refuelling (AAR)
Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR)
Cruise Missiles/Precision Guided Munitions
Theatre Ballistic Missile Defence
Deployable Communication Modules
Headquarters (OHQ, FHQ, CCHQs)
Theatre Surveillance and Reconnaissance Air Picture
Strategic ISR IMINT Collection
UAV (HALE, MALE and tactical UAVs)
Early Warning and Distant Detection Strategic Level
Strategic Air Mobility/Outsized Transport Aircraft, General Cargo Aircraft
Roll-On-Roll-Off Vessels (RO-RO)/General Cargo Shipping
The panels met independently and were composed of at least one ‘lead nation’
per panel, active participants and observers. The work of the panels was coordinated
by the “Headline Goal Task Force”, which drew upon the support of the EU military
staff (EUMS). Panels presented their final reports on 1st March 2003.
The ECAP process has been guided by four core principles: (1) The
improvement of the effectiveness and efficiency of European defence efforts,
enhancing cooperation between member states or groups of member states; (2) A
‘bottom up’ approach to European defence cooperation, relying on voluntary national
commitments; (3) Coordination between EU member states as well as coordination
with NATO; (4) Public support through ECAP’s transparency and visibility.
The identified shortfalls vary widely in importance, nature, operational
implications and the possible ways to rectify them. One category can be addressed if
member states revise their contributions and offer capabilities they already have but
which, for different reasons, have not been offered before.
A second category, however, consists of shortfalls for which capabilities do
not exist in national inventories and which can only be rectified if member states
acquire the required capability. Some of these shortfalls can be temporarily addressed
by short-term solutions such as leasing or upgrading. For a number of shortfalls,
including some related to strategic capabilities, a long-term solution requires largescale procurement projects. Some of these projects are already under way, others not.
During the first phase, neither national planners nor procurement specialists
were involved in the panel’s work, leaving somewhat unclear if and how ECAP
would actually lead to the development of the required new capabilities. While EU
defence ministers declared at the Capability Conference on 19 May 2003 that the EU
“now has operational capability across the full range of Petersberg tasks,” they
acknowledged that this capability remains “limited and constrained by recognised
See Declaration on EU military capabilities, 19 May 2003, p. 2.
Following an evaluation by the EUMC, member states established ten project
groups at the Capability Conference ‘focused on the implementation of concrete
projects, including solutions through acquisition or other solutions such as leasing,
multinationalisation and considering possibilities for role specialisation.’2 The
following table outlines these ten project groups, each headed again by a ‘lead nation’.
Air-to-Air Refuelling (AAR)
Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR)
Headquarters (HQ)
United Kingdom
Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Protection (NBC)
Special Operations Forces (SOF)
Theatre Ballistic Missile Defence (TBMD)
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV)
Strategic Airlift
Space based assets
Interoperability Issues and Working Procedures for
Evacuation and Humanitarian Operations
ECAP is generally considered to be a promising approach to tackle capability
shortfalls. It has, however, several weak points: First, it remains voluntary and lacks
credibility as long as commitments are not underpinned with the necessary funding.
Second, ECAP has lacked leadership. Member states have been free to participate and
to take commitments, and the EUMS apparently has had difficulties to follow, let
alone coordinate, the work in the various Panels. Third, the working method (regular
meetings of national experts) has been hardly innovative. Last but not least, ECAP has
been a pure ad hoc exercise, limited both in time (focusing only on current shortfalls)
and scope (dealing only with shortfalls in commitments to the Headline Goal Force).
There are constant attempts, however, to improve the existing mechanism. At
its meeting on 17 November 2003, the Council underlined the need to complement the
ECAP with an approach capable of identifying objectives, drawing up timelines and
reporting procedures to the Council in close co-operation with each project group.
Therefore it tasked the relevant Council bodies to develop an ECAP roadmap to
monitor the ECAP progress and allow member states to redirect the work of the
project groups if deemed necessary. Accompanied by a Capability Improvement Chart
including a state-of-play of the project groups and a clear readable overview for
public opinion and the media, the ECAP roadmap should be presented as an integral
part of the Single Progress Report during each presidency.
However, the future of the ECAP process is unclear. One option is to transfer
its function to the European Defence Agency that the European Council of
Thessaloniki decided to set up in the course of 2004.
See Declaration on EU military capabilities, 19 May 2003, p. 4.

European Capabilities Action Plan (ECAP)