Member states must cooperate on defence, not duplicate

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

Turkey has blocked Austria’s partner programmes with NATO. Austria is not a NATO member, but has a partnership with the Atlantic organisation. [Utenriksdepartementet UD/Flickr]

In an era of new challenges and growing instability, the European Union cannot stand passively by and watch as its military posture in the world diminishes, writes Joseph Daul.

Joseph Daul is the president of the European People’s Party.

After the US, the EU is the second-highest military spender, but the poor level of cooperation makes this spending inefficient. Duplicated research and military equipment doesn’t offer good value for money either. The EU must beef up shared security efforts to remain a global player. We must combine well-developed diplomacy with military instruments to deter aggression and to protect European principles, values and interests. With growing threats inside and outside the EU, no single country can do it on its own.

In 2015, the EPP Congress in Madrid adopted a strategic document entitled Protecting the Union and Promoting Our Values. The EPP committed to stepping up our security and defence. Today, we call on member states to show courage and leadership and to truly put the safety of European citizens first.

This is especially important in a fast-changing world. In 1981, I had the privilege to participate in a discussion organised by the French Institute of Advanced Studies in National Defence (IHEDN). In one of the sessions, a young French economist said that the Communist regime would go bankrupt between 1989 and 1991. All participants, including myself, laughed in disbelief at what was deemed wishful thinking.

I often recall this story when I think about how much can change within a decade. What seemed impossible at the time came faster than expected. The Cold War was over, but uncertainty and fear returned. Russia’s aggression in Ukraine is a painful reminder of the threat to European countries’ territorial integrity.

The European Union’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) exists to offer member states relevant instruments with which to protect European citizens, defend the EU’s interests and guard our values and principles. Despite previous commitments, the current level of engagement in common security and defence has been developing at a slow pace, to say the least. EU member states have so far shown very little interest in cooperating within the CSDP. It is now time to raise the bar, to show a high level of realistic ambition and to take responsibility for our own defence. No one is going to do it for us.

There is no need to reinvent the wheel. The European Union has a set of tools at its disposal, listed in the Lisbon Treaty. Member states could make full use of permanent, structured cooperation, known as PESCO. A group of willing member states could boost their cooperation, without blaming reluctant ones for holding others back. PESCO could transform the existing structure into a functional one entailing a legal commitment to work together towards a common objective: a European bloc that is more secure together.

In addition to PESCO, the EPP has long called for using existing EU battlegroups to rapidly respond in tackling unfolding crises. 1,500 troops have been ready to act for almost a decade, but we are yet to see them in action.

Member states should also show political will and establish a permanent forum for effective decision-making. The EU needs the Council of Defence Ministers for further integration, information exchange and, most importantly, proper coordination. I have also repeatedly called for setting up an EU civilian and military headquarters, in order to make planning and coordination easier and more efficient.

Some fear that further EU military cooperation would weaken NATO. EU-NATO partnership remains and will remain a crucial security pillar in Europe. But the EU must become a more reliable partner in order to effectively deter our common enemies. European allies should put their money where their mouth is and take their 2% military spending commitments much more seriously.

Another financial fact: the European Commission has put a price tag on the bloc’s level of defence cooperation and unnecessary duplications. It costs between €25 and €100 billion per year. The Commission proposed in November 2016 a new European Defence Plan, together with the European Defence Fund, to boost cooperation and stop the waste of money. Extra funding would increase the importance of an independent European defence industry. This will facilitate research and development in the defence sector, and SMEs will be able to apply for these funds.

Member states have another added incentive to invest together in research and equipment. It could make an enormous difference. Military research has led to several great inventions — think of duct tape, Airbus, GPS, even the internet itself — now widely used by civilians. EU member states have the same ability to create innovative tools that would benefit future generations. But we must stop doing the same research twice and instead pool resources and share expertise.

Europe’s security is intertwined; without further cooperation, it will remain weak and inefficient. Member states must recognise this and immediately take measures to improve their defence integration. The European Union has pledged to defend the safety of its citizens, for whom security is a major concern. It is the time for a true security and defence union; it is time to deliver on this promise. We need it not to make war, but to maintain peace.

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