MEPs urge EU countries to boost defence cooperation ‘in times of external crisis’

The alleged rapprochement between Washington and Moscow on foreign policy issues is putting pressure on EU member states. [European External Action Service / Flickr]

In light of the growing uncertainty in international politics, MEPs yesterday (09 February) passed a resolution urging member states to show greater political will to cooperate on defence.

In a resolution adopted by the Foreign Affairs and Constitutional Affairs committees, MEPs emphasised the need to deepen and boost cooperation in defence among member states within the framework of the Lisbon Treaty.

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Russia’s increasing aggressiveness in the East, combined with US President Donald Trump’s unclear stance on the future of NATO and his request to European partners to pay more for defence, has raised eyebrows in Brussels, prompting the definition of policies which touch on the sensitive issue of national competences.

In addition, the alleged rapprochement between Washington and Moscow on foreign policy issues is putting pressure on EU member states to reconsider their defence plans in the long run.

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European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has also stated that the EU needs its own army with which “Europe could react more credibly to the threat to peace in a member state or in a neighbouring state”.

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The European Union needs its own army to face up to Russia and other threats, as well as to restore the bloc’s standing around the world, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told a German newspaper yesterday (8 March).

Another sign of the EU executive’s will to show greater solidarity in foreign affairs issues was a rare statement made by the European Commission spokesperson, Maja Kocijancic, on Greece-Turkey relations, which have deteriorated lately.

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“The EU urges Turkey to avoid any kind of source of friction, threat or action directed against a member state, which damages good neighbourly relations and the peaceful settlement of disputes,” she told euractiv.com, stressing the need to respect the sovereignty of member states over their territorial sea and airspace.

Upgrading defence agencies

Michael Gahler, a German MEP from the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP group) and co-rapporteur of the resolution, stressed, “In a time of external crises, the Lisbon Treaty offers us a huge potential for improving our common security and defence policy and spending taxpayers’ money better”.

“We urgently need to link up the isolated islands of military cooperation and start Permanent Structured Cooperation. We should also start funding the operational and personnel budgets for PESCO and the European Defence Agency out of the EU budget,” he added.

The Permanent Structured Cooperation is a provision in the Lisbon Treaty, according to which certain EU countries can strengthen their cooperation in military matters.

Particularly, the MEPs believe that the European Defence Agency, designed to support EU member states in the development of their defence capabilities, should be treated as an EU-funded “sui generis EU institution”.

They also suggest increasing national defence spending to 2% of GDP, meaning an extra €100 billion for defence by the end of the coming decade.

According to the resolution, there must also be “further reflection” regarding the future relations between the EU and UK in the field of military capabilities, in the event that Brexit becomes a reality. The UK is by far the most capable European military player at EU level.

A safer Europe

European Parliament’s rapporteur on the EU budget Siegfried Mureșan told EURACTIV on Thursday (9 February) that the 2018 EU budget should focus simultaneously on growth and security.

Parliament rapporteur: 2018 EU budget should focus on ‘prosperity’ and ‘security’

The 2018 EU budget should be pro-growth in order to create well-paid jobs but simultaneously boost security both externally and internally, Siegfried Mureșan told Euractiv.com in an interview.

“Last year we committed to launching preparatory actions in the area of defence research at the European level. By this I mean we should spend money on defence only once at the European level and then share it among member states. Spend it once and share it among the countries, because we are partners,” he said.

“This area is vital for a safe Europe, and we’re ready, with the resources we have available, to do everything necessary,” he added.

In a draft report on general guidelines for the preparation of the 2018 budget presented yesterday, the Parliament’s Committee on Budgets stressed, “strengthened cooperation in the field of defence is needed in order to meet the security challenges that the EU is facing, which are generated by prolonged instability in the EU neighbourhood and uncertainty regarding the commitments of certain EU partners towards NATO objectives”.

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