EU defence ministers on Tuesday (12 November) signed off on the third wave of 13 new proposals under the EU’s Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) framework, raising the number of agreed joint military projects to 47 initiatives.
Formally established in December 2017, the PESCO framework is intended to deepen defence cooperation among the 25 participating EU member states, pool and share resources across the bloc and make the EU’s defence sector more flexible and independent of the US.
Together with planned 13 billion-euro European Defence Fund it marks the cornerstones of the EU’s efforts to do more for its own security, which has depended for decades largely on the US-dominated NATO.
Denmark traditionally does not participate in the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy, while Malta opted out due to its constitutional neutrality and the UK disengaged after its decision to leave the bloc.
This time, unlike the first two project runs, there is more multinational participation and a strong presence of Southern and Eastern European countries.
The new wave of collaborative military projects includes a large number of training projects in the field of cybersecurity and space and is marked by a very strong trend in high technology development.
“Both the European Union and NATO are facing new challenges, namely hybrid threats, climate change, artificial intelligence and we need more cooperation to address these challenges,” said Finnish defence minister Antti Kaikkonen.
According to the detailed list published on Tuesday, new projects include a new patrol vessel, an unmanned anti-submarine system, an electronic jamming weapon for aircraft, technology to track ballistic missiles and a system to insert drones into the Single European Sky system.
Five of the new PESCO projects focus on training, including an Integrated European Joint Training and Simulation Centre, a Special Operations Forces Medical Training Centre, a CBRN Defence Training Range, a Cyber Academy and Innovation Hub, and an EU network of diving centres.
European defence planning, operations and weapons development foresee France taking a big role in 60% of the 47 projects, often with Germany, Italy and Spain.
Although in the last few months EU officials have been repeating that they are inching towards an agreement on the conditions under which third countries will be allowed to participate in the bloc’s military projects, no agreement has been reached so far on the matter.
“We are much closer than ever on finding an agreement on criteria, but is not there yet. The work is set to continue in following months, but we wish for agreement to be found sooner rather than later as it is extremely important for certain PESCO projects,” the EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, told reporters in Brussels.
An agreement on criteria on third state participation criteria, which would allow US and UK companies to take part in joint defence projects, could potentially remove a source of friction in transatlantic ties.
According to EDA officials, the next call of proposals is not meant to happen before 2021.
In early 2020, the EU’s Coordinated Annual Review on Defence (CARD), a process aimed at obtaining a better overview of Member States’ defence-related activities and spending, is supposed to assess the progress made within the PESCO framework and decide which ones are going to be prioritised.
Currently, 17 of the 34 are likely to reach operational capacity by the end of this year.
Asked how many of the now 47 PESCO projects should make the list in the end, an EU diplomat told reporters that “it needs to be made sure there is a robust selection mechanism of projects that fill the capability gaps and actually deliver” – a view broadly shared by nearly all member states.
According to the source, there currently are different levels of maturity and while some projects are fairly underway, others might not make the final list.
“But of course once you have your project on the list, this is a reality that is difficult to accept,” the EU diplomat said.
Countries like the Netherlands have repeatedly expressed interest in clustering projects that have a clear link with each other.
One such possibility would be the Dutch military mobility project, which de facto already closely cooperates with Germany’s defence forces.