EXCLUSIVE / Centre-right leaders will greenlight a plan to move towards an EU defence union at the European People’s Party congress in Madrid next week, euractiv.com has learned.
In a strategic paper which will be adopted at the Congress, and obtained by euractiv.com, EPP leaders will say that the various crises in Europe’s neighbourhood have taken the bloc to a moment of truth.
“We are going to move towards an EU army much faster than people believe,” said EPP president Joseph Daul to a small group of journalists on Thursday (15 October). The EPP is the largest European-level political party, and currently includes 10 EU and 6 non-EU heads of state and government.
Attempts to move towards a common defence have been part of the European project since its inception. In 1950, French Prime Minister René Pleven proposed a plan for a far-reaching defence integration – including the setting up of European Army and the appointment of a European minister of defence. But France itself killed off the idea before it got off the ground.
Earlier this year, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker sparked outcry when he said the European Union needed its own army to face up to Russia and other threats, as well as to restore the bloc’s standing around the world.
In a strategic note unveiled in June, Michel Barnier, tasked by Juncker to draft a vision for a much more far-ranging Common Security and Defence Policy (CDSP), argued that the “EU’s soft power must be matched by collective hard power and a more efficient use of our €210 billion yearly defence spending.”
The paper published in June was barely noticed in the midst of the Greek crisis. But now confronted by yet another emergency , the refugees and migration crisis, it has become a blueprint for the way forward.
“In today’s security environment, the CSDP stand as one of the weakest spots of the EU’s project for peace, integration and development,“ reads the paper to be adopted by EPP leaders. “Rising threats must now lead to a change in mind-set.”
EPP leaders are determined to respond to rising threats by pushing the European Council to support three new steps, laying the ground for a full-fledged EU Security and Defence Union, and ultimately a European army.
As Europe is called to respond to more crisis, it needs a European operational headquarters that will give it the appropriate command-and control framework to plan and run military operations rather than rely on ad-hoc or NATO structures.
“Moving beyond CSDP’s focus on post-conflict and low-intensity missions to being able to conduct territorial defence and higher intensity,” the paper reads.
In building capabilities, the 28-country bloc would need to move from the current patchwork of bilateral and multilateral military collaboration to a more efficient permanent structured cooperation (PESCO), as foreseen in the Lisbon Treaty.
A good example for the PESCO would be the setting-up of a European medical command.
No member state will ever be pushed into joining PESCO, as participation will remain voluntary.
Another area that EPP leaders are pushing to include in that framework is border control and crisis control such as the development of European coastguard capacities or entrust the implementation of such tasks to a group of member states.
Containing Putin and privileging Turkey
Containing Putin’s Russia is at the core of the motivation for rapidly developing a common defence union. “Russian aggression against members of the EU and NATO must be deterred,” will say EPP leaders, according to Congress conclusions. “This presupposes, first of all, a NATO which is militarily stronger thanks to more and smarter defence spending but also higher levels of pooling and sharing of military infrastructure, materiel and personnel between member states of the EU and NATO.”
In the new geopolitical context, EPP leaders see Turkey as a ‘pivotal ‘country in the southeastern neighbourhood and as such needs to be given incentives to better coordinate with EU policies and foster cooperation in the field of security.
“A privileged partnership with Turkey remains a full-fledged alternative for membership in the EU,” the Congress conclusions read.
Forget enlargement fatigue
EPP leaders will also slam so-called enlargement fatigue. “Enlargement has been the most successful European polices and has proven the importance of the EU model,” they insist. “The EU should not be caught up in enlargement fatigue, but should rather keep a pro-EU spirit in the region of the Western Balkans alive and support the aspirations of these countries to join the EU.
“We need to open up much more and develop cooperation with the Western Balkans. We will listen much more to EPP leaders in these countries,” said Joseph Daul.