High Level Course

General presentation

The High Level Course (HLC) is one of the flagship courses of the European Security and Defence College (ESDC) given its target audience (experienced civil servants), its length (4 weeks) as well as the quality of its participants and speakers. It addresses the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), a main component of the European Union’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). Since the first edition of this course in 2005, the Royal Higher Institute for Defence (RHID) has been in charge of the organisation of its first module in Brussels. The three other modules take place in other capitals of the European Union, where they are organised by local training institutions.

Session 2023-2024Session 2022-2023Session 2021-2022Session 2020-2021

Target audience and selection procedure

The High Level Course brings together about 70 high-level experts from EU institutions, member states or candidate states. The ESDC selects the participants on the basis of the application files sent by these institutions or states.

Objective of the course

The objective of the course is twofold:

  • to broaden participants’ knowledge and understanding of the EU security and defence architecture, the integrated approach to the CSDP as a key tool of the CFSP, current and anticipated policy, missions and operations,
  • to increase their awareness of new threats and other horizontal issues.


The High Level Course is organised from September to June in four capitals of the European Union. The first module always takes place in Brussels because of the presence of the EU institutions. The organisation of the three other modules is attributed each year to the member states that have applied for it. Each module lasts five days and addresses a specific theme:

  • MODULE 1 – CFSP/CSDP Governance and Functioning of the EU:
    The first module is designed to deepen understanding of how the EU institutions work and interact and what role they play in the CFSP/CSDP, to provide an insight into recent EU strategic-level documents and policies and to broaden understanding of EU decision-making processes at political/strategic level and external action. It familiarises participants with the EU institutions, the European External Action Service (EEAS) and relevant EU agencies as well as other organisations/structures located in Brussels.
  • MODULE 2 – EU’s Crisis Management Capabilities:
    This module focuses on the rationale and challenges of the development of military and civilian crisis management capabilities. The module is designed to provide insight into EU crisis management concepts, processes and tools, to update and broaden the understanding of crisis management capabilities.
  • MODULE 3 – CSDP in Action:
    The purpose is to provide a comprehensive overview of the EU’s engagement in support of the CFSP including the planning and force generation processes for CSDP missions and operations, from both a conceptual and a practical perspective. The module also provides an insight into a number of EU regional policies and aims to increase awareness of the EU’s and Member States’ strategic relevance in the current security environment.
  • MODULE 4 – Future of the CSDP:
    This final module provides a comprehensive review of the current state of play, progress made and further evolution of the CSDP in the context of EU external action. In this respect, cross-fertilisation with other actors involved in the EU external action is taken into consideration. A special emphasis is placed on the analysis of the future prospects in EU CFSP/CSDP as well as the impact of horizontal aspects on the CSDP’s implementation. A practical exercise on EU crisis management planning and decision-making on a political and strategic level concludes the course.

Implication of the department High Studies of Defence

The department High Studies of Defence (HSD) organises the first module, in close collaboration with the ESDC secretariat and in partnership with the Egmont Institute. This module takes place on an annual basis in September on the Campus Renaissance.