EU is moving closer together on defence

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.com PLC.

Armament investment in the EU might be more communitized in the future. [© Bundeswehr (CC BY-ND 2.0)]

After the Brexit vote and Trump’s election in 2016, the defence union came to the fore of EU integration plans. The past EU summit showed that progress has obviously been made, writes Steffen Stiehle of EURACTIV Germany.

During the crisis year of 2016, the 27 EU member states remaining after Brexit placed great emphasis on showing themselves united and for stabilisation to deepen the cooperation as soon as possible.

The top priorities for this were defined in the so-called Bratislava Declaration. A central aspect in the document is the thematic bloc on “security and defence”. This, however, might probably be due to the fact that US foreign policy under Donald Trump has become more unsettled and unreliable.

Meanwhile, reaching an agreement on a complete transfer of competences in the field of defence policy to the EU level will be rather difficult, what can also be seen very quickly in the subsequent debates. The political integration of the EU is not advanced enough yet. Current conflicts of interest between member states are too great.

Instead, the focus is now on a systematic expansion of the cooperation in terms of individual projects. Germany and France, during their Joint Council of Ministers, have already taken a step forward in launching stronger bilateral cooperation, which includes, among other things, the development of fighter jets, a new generation of combat tanks and a “Euro Drone”.

Under the label of the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), this type of project-related cooperation in the field of defence is to be extended EU wide.

All EU member states make commitments on a voluntary basis. Armament projects, which are interesting for several member states, are going to be launched jointly by them. They then will be considered as EU projects, even if not all member states are involved.

At the same time, the member states jointly feed a defence fund, which, in return, gives priority to projects from structured cooperation. In this way, more joint defence capacities are to be gradually built up.

All in the spirit of a “multi-speed Europe” then as it is expressly provided for in the Lisbon Treaty, on which PESCO is legally based. There, article 42/6 says that “those Member States whose military capabilities fulfil higher criteria and which have made more binding commitments to one another in this area with a view to the most demanding missions shall establish permanent structured cooperation within the Union framework.”

In June 2017, the European Council already agreed that member states should communicate their commitments by the end of 2017. The first joint projects are said to be launched in 2019. Last week the Council was very satisfied with the progress so far.

It seems to be possible to further streamline the timetable. According to the final document of the past EU summit, “The European Council recalls its June 2017 conclusions. It welcomes the significant progress made by Member States in preparing a Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) notification with a common list of commitments, and on PESCO governance.

“It encourages those Member States in a position to do so to swiftly notify the Council and the High Representative of their intentions to participate in PESCO. This would allow for the launching of PESCO before the end of the year, with a view to swiftly implementing the commitments, including the launching of first project.”

European Parliament VP: 'We must use the window of opportunity' to deepen EU integration

Current conditions are ideal to push the EU towards becoming a European federal state, according to one of the vice-presidents of the European Parliament, Rainer Wieland. EURACTIV Germany reports.

German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen is confident that PESCO will be able to take large steps towards a defence community. When it comes to concrete projects in the PESCO framework, in a recent video statement she mentioned the creation of a European mobile hospital, a joint military logistics network, officer training as well as a joint training centre for specific military missions.

Jürgen Hardt, of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group in the German Bundestag, called PESCO a milestone in European integration: “The CDU/CSU group in the German Bundestag welcomes the participation cornerstones of the Permanent Structured Cooperation. This is a key component for deepening the Common Security and Defense Policy of the European Union. It is in Germany’s own interest that Europe also develops further in the field of foreign policy and defense. In the end this means more security for all citizens. ”

On the other hand, left-wing party Die Linke fears a further split between a core Europe and the rest: “In the future, Merkel and Macron want to define all the essential details of central armament projects in the solo run, then open them in the framework of the PESCO mechanism for a few EU countries and introduce it into the EU framework. At the same time, however, most of them will be excluded, “ said MEP Sabine Lösing.

Such a concentration of power on the military level would be fatal, especially since all member states would have to bear the consequences, as they contribute to the financing of the Defence Fund.

The next official meeting of the European Council will take place in December. Then the topic of the Permanent Structured Cooperation is going to be once again on the agenda.