EU Defence Union – Under one flag for Europe

, by Alexandre Kintzinger , Translated by Ivan Danević

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EU Defence Union – Under one flag for Europe
On 6 March 2016, the EU Council adopted 17 new projects concerning European defence strategy within the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO). Photo: European Parliament / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

On 6 March 2018, the Council of the EU adopted 17 new projects for what is called Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) in the field of European defence strategy – a historic moment for the EU. The aim of these projects is to deepen the cooperation agreed by 25 EU Member States in December 2017. The pooling of common forces and military cooperation between the EU Member States is more necessary than ever in view of the geopolitical situation.

Within the framework of a Council meeting on 6 March 2018, EU Defence Ministers decided to initiate further steps towards the application of this Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO). These steps include 17 new projects, including concerted training missions, coordination of military operations, as well as further development of technology and the effective pooling of capacities. In addition, a time plan has been adopted which determines which specific goals must be met this year for the further implementation of PESCO. Federica Mogherini, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, called this day a “historic moment”.

It was the first meeting of this kind since the decision for PESCO at the political level. With the Treaty of Lisbon, thus already in 2009, the legal basis for a future cooperation in this field was established. At the inauguration ceremony in December last year, Mogherini also said, "We have activated an ambitious and inclusive Permanent Structured Cooperation in the field of defence. Twenty-five Member States have agreed to join forces on a regular basis, to work together, to share costs and invest together, to make common procurements and act jointly. The possibilities of Permanent Structured Cooperation are huge.”

The effectiveness of defence spending needs to be maximised

The capabilities of the EU as an international partner in strategic questions and global security will certainly be improved by PESCO. Structured cooperation will also be closely linked to the European Defence Fund in this policy area. It is intended to provide participating states with financial incentives to research and develop new defence systems. PESCO projects will thus have the advantage of higher co-financing from the EU budget. The fund established in 2017 by President Juncker already supports research projects in the field of defence and is expected to receive 1.5 billion euros in 2020.

The planned optimisation of costs which should be achieved through the European Defence Fund is urgently needed. Yearly, 26 billion euros are wasted, mainly because of Member States’ individual procurement or over-production. In comparison to the US, which spends 4% of GDP on the military, the EU invests only 1.3%. At the same time, the European Union has more than two million soldiers, while the US hardly has 1.4 million. The EU Commission therefore sees a great opportunity for savings, especially for aircraft and vehicles, if it is possible to efficiently reduce their number or to better divide existing means. The Commission emphasised in an announcement that "Cooperation between Member States is insufficient: Over 80% of procurement and over 90% of research and technology activities are focused on a national level. The degree of fragmentation – with 178 different weapon systems in Europe in contrast to 30 in the US – stays high. Insufficient defence planning leads to inefficient use of taxpayers’ money, unnecessary duplication of efforts, and substandard deployment readiness of defence forces.”

How to contribute to the global state of security

For carrying out of military missions, the EU has until now been reliant on the NATO and thus mainly on the assistance of US forces. The Permanent Structured Cooperation is therefore a first step out of dependence and, at the same time, it might be the first step towards a European army. The deepening of joint cooperation must not stop with defence, but must go beyond that.

Taking into account that the US seems to be increasingly distancing itself from its role as the “world police,” the EU can assume this role even more. Conflicts at one’s own front door – such as in Ukraine, the Middle East, North Africa or elsewhere – cannot be the concerns of individual European nations only. The EU must therefore actively take part in moulding the global state of security. An all-European security policy is therefore only possible through the establishment of common security structures. The concept of EU battle groups, which are to act as a sort of EU strike force and whose development has so far been only positively valued, is one possible way towards a European army. Above all, it would certainly be good for the consolidation of a common European identity. The ‘out- of-touch-with-ordinary-citizens approach’ of the EU is a problem about which citizens complain in many places. A European army serving common European values and interests could considerably reduce this problem. This could strengthen European citizens’ sense of belonging to the Union and foster the formation of European patriotism.

Harassing fire from the US came surprisingly fast

Immediately after the formal launch of the new 17 PESCO projects, the Washington administration warned the EU about establishing security structures that are in direct competition with the NATO. Defense Secretary James Mattis even went so far as to demand a written commitment from the EU Council of Ministers stating that joint defence will continue to be a NATO task. The EU defence ministers were obviously annoyed by this, but announced that they would discuss it in due course. However, there will be no written commitment as the US demands. The EU leadership referred to the current treaty in place, according to which the NATO remains the basis for common defence. Moreover, the EU does not seek to duplicate NATO structures, only to preserve its relationship with countries such as Great Britain. Reforming the NATO, however, would certainly not be undesirable. For example, Turkey, a NATO partner, often leaves the impression – especially in view of current events – that it does not always act in the interest of its Western allies. The real reason why the US rejects increased military cooperation in Europe are not worries about the future of the NATO: It is rather about the interests of the US defence industry, which is now seeing serious competition in European arms manufacturers, as a new market is being created due to PESCO.

Never forget who your real allies are

It seems that the United States is currently unable to really distinguish between friend and foe. The former leading power of the so-called “Western Alliance” seems to be less interested in preserving this alliance. The US, like Europe, has a historic duty to preserve this “community of fate”, which in the past has always sought to be a guarantee of peace, stability and security – although not always successfully. A basis of trust that has been strengthened over decades must not be so carelessly discarded. For the US, this would be a fundamental mistake with unpredictable consequences for the future. In addition, it will be much more difficult for the United States to build a similar level of trust with countries such as China or Russia, because cooperation between them would alone be made difficult by their essentially opposite geopolitical interests.

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