The agenda of today’s mega-FAC meeting was so heavy that even EU policy nerds may have missed the news. Today the EU, or 25 countries out of 28 (all except the UK, Denmark and Malta), took the “historic decision”, as EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini put it, to establish PESCO.
Dubbed “the sleeping beauty” of the Lisbon Treaty, PESCO is expected to become a game changer in European security.
Pesco is an Italian word for “peach tree”, but in Eurospeak, PESCO means Permanent Structured Cooperation on Security and Defence, as outlined in the Treaty of the EU. The EU has traditionally been big as a soft power but small on defence and security. Nowadays soft power is in low demand and citizens name security as one of their major concerns.
Similar efforts to build up military links have been unsuccessful in the past. Britain, the bloc’s biggest military power, has long sought to thwart EU defence cooperation, opposing anything that might lead to a European army.
But PESCO is not about replacing NATO, which will keep its primary role in defending Europe. PESCO is largely the brainchild of Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who rightly assumed that common European defence was a long shot, while pooling defence capacities in Europe makes perfect economic sense.
Brexit has indeed been an accelerator. The European Defence Fund, prepared in only five months, is of an unprecedented scale, both in terms of the financial means committed and the perimeter of activities envisaged. And the entire research and development phase in defence could benefit from European funding, which would bring progress in the standardisation and improvement of equipment.
As Anna Sauerbray from EURACTIV’s partner media Der Tagesspiegel wrote, PESCO is a clever way out of the practical needs and strategic disagreement dilemma. The cooperation is dually “modular”: not all EU member states have to participate. And not all PESCO states have to participate in all projects. Strictly speaking, one project of strategic importance is enough to be in the club. This gives member states the opportunity to negotiate their political priorities in small groups, from project to project.
But for Carnegie Europe, PESCO is only one branch of two parallel developments taking place in European defence. The second development is receiving much less attention than PESCO.
Paris is launching defence cooperation initiatives outside the EU format, thus moving from an EU-focused to a European-oriented defence approach. The centrepiece is the European Intervention Initiative (EII). It takes place outside the EU and NATO, thus seeking to circumvent their slow and cumbersome processes and the miniscule contributions of some members.
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