EU defence ministers hold ‘historic’ first meeting in PESCO format

Some of the participants to the 'historic' PESCO ministerial of 6 March 2018. [Council]

EU defence ministers yesterday (6 March) held their first meeting in the ‘PESCO format’. This means that, although ministers from all EU member states were present, only those participating in the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) pact were involved in adopting legal acts.

Twenty-five EU governments – all except the UK, Denmark and Malta – launched the PESCO agreement in December to fund, develop and deploy armed forces together.

The agreement aims at ending the squandering of billions of euros by splintered defence policies and reducing Europe’s heavy reliance on Washington.

The Brief: Sowing the seed of the PESCO tree

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 …

Yesterday, they adopted a decision formally establishing a first list of 17 collaborative projects to be developed under PESCO and a recommendation on an implementation roadmap.

The list contains projects such as a European medical command, a network of logistic hubs, upgrade of maritime surveillance, a cyber threats sharing platform, an armoured infantry fighting vehicle, and others.

An overview of the projects was published, which gives more clarity on what exactly is envisaged, with the contact details of national spokespersons who can provide more information.

They also adopted a recommendation on an Implementation roadmap which sets out a calendar for the assessment of national implementation plans.

The next steps are as follows:

  • In May, the PESCO secretariat will call for proposals for a next set of PESCO projects;
  • In June, the Council will adopt governance rules for the PESCO projects;
  • The process to identify, assess and select the next PESCO projects will last until October;
  • In November the Council will adopt the new set of PESCO projects.

EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini said that facilitating military mobility within the Union is something that can be done only through EU action, which is what the ministers had agreed.

At the moment, transportation of military personnel and equipment within Europe is still subject to physical, legal and regulatory barriers. This is why the European Parliament has been calling for a “Military Schengen”.

“I will present an action plan, together with the Commission, in the coming weeks,” Mogherini said. She added that an instrument to finance military and defence-related expenditures was needed, as currently such activities could not be financed under the EU budget.

“It would be a European Peace facility, off budget, that would provide support, capacity building and assistance to our partners’ armed forces,” Mogherini said.

In September 2016, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker announced the establishment of a European Defence Fund to help member states develop and acquire key strategic defence capabilities more quickly, jointly and in a more cost effective way.

Until 2020, the Commission will allocate €590 million to the European Defence Fund. As of 2020, the Commission is proposing to allocate at the minimum €1.5 billion per year to the common pot. The Fund is not designed to substitute member states’ defence investments, but rather to enable and accelerate cooperation in that area.