EU Treaty’s impact on defence policy remains unclear


The Lisbon Treaty will strengthen the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) but the scope of the changes will very much depend on the composition of the new troika to be appointed in 2009, according to MEPs and experts participating in a European Parliament workshop.

The parliamentarians participating in the workshop were split over how to assess the treaty’s changes in the field of security and defence, with assessments ranging from “massive boost” to “no big step forward”. 

“The treaty offers many opportunities for improvements, but also many unknowns,” stated Antonio Missiroli of the European Policy Centre, referring in particular to the position of the HR. His role in further pushing forward ESDP will be “central”, Missiroli and MEPs said, pointing out that the scope of his tasks very much depends on the personality to be chosen for this post. 

“The High Representative and the external service will have to serve as the bracket between the Council and the Commission,” said Jo Leinen, a German socialist MEP and chairman of the Parliament’s constitutional affairs committee. 

Thus the EU may not be split up along the lines of the Commission dealing solely with internal policies and the Council being in charge of external representation, Leinen explained. 

MEPs agreed that the Parliament must have a strong say in choosing the personalities in the new troika as they would define its competencies, in particular with regard to the Union’s new president.

“We must be on alert that the new President does not encroach executive authorities. His sole function is representation,” Leinen said. 

Moreover, the Parliament must exert its right to control and scrutinise foreign and security policy, in particular with regard to EU missions, Leinen claimed, adding that if the MEPs failed, the result would be a vacuum in terms of democratic control. 

In addition, more public debate on EU missions is needed, most MEPs agreed. 

A controversial issue was the newly-created opportunity for ‘Permanent Structured Cooperation‘, which allows the largest member states (in terms of military capabilities and commitments) to move forward on security and defence matters. 

Among others, German MEP Tobias Pflüger (GUE/NGL) strongly criticised this concept, fearing that it may lead to the creation of a “core Europe” built around the “big four” – Germany, France, Italy and the UK. 

Other areas of concern were the first-ever EU treaty reference to NATO as well as the solidarity and mutual defence clauses, which oblige member states to provide assistance to each other in case of armed aggression or terrorist attack. 

Representatives of the ‘Left’ considered these articles to be “steps towards a stronger militarisation” of the Union, Pflüger pointed out. 

German Socialist MEP and chairman of the EP's constitutional affairs committee, Jo Leinen, believes the ESDP is clearly strengthened by the new treaty but said that it nevertheless "still remains an unclear construction site". 

Geoffrey van Orden, defence spokesman for the Conservatives in the European Parliament, said that the new treaty will give a "massive boost to the EU's defence ambitions". 

He was concerned that the new treaty will enable a core group of countries to form an EU army under the direction of the EU's new president and 'foreign minister', without any limit to the range of military missions the Union might undertake. 

Andrew Duff, the leader of the UK Liberal Democrats in the EP and former co-rapporteur on the 'period of reflection' following the French and Dutch referenda on the European constitution, said: "The Treaty has large potential and a dramatic impact in the field of common foreign and security policy." 

German MEP Tobias Pflüger (GUE/NGL) heavily criticised the "vital changes" in the field of security and defence, arguing that security and defence articles have become the "backbone" of the Treaty. 

He also expressed criticism of the Fourth Protocol of the Treaty, which foresees the deployment of EU Battlegroups to EU missions within a period of five to 30 days. 

"This provision clearly weakens the Parliament's right to scrutinise military missions," Pflüger said, pointing out that it was impossible, at least for the German Parliament, to approve a mission. 

The Portuguese Socialist and Vice-Chairwoman of the Parliament's security and defence committee, Ana Gomes, said: "The Treaty makes progress in terms of addressing the democratic deficit", However, she admitted that the majority of national parliamentarians still "do not have a clue" what goes on at the EU level. 

She said she was aware of concerns regarding the extension of the Petersberg Tasks but pointed out that "sometimes we simply need a military," in particular when faced with humanitarian catastrophes, such as in Chad. 

Karl von Wogau, the chairman of the EP's subcommittee on security and defence, concluded by saying that despite the improvements in this field the EU is "still far away from having a common European army". "Defence still remains a predominantly national issue," he said. 

The Lisbon Treaty, which was signed by European heads of state and government in December 2007 and is expected to come into effect in 2009, brings with it several changes for the ESDP. 

The most notable one is the upgrade of the position of the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (HR), a role currently held by Javier Solana. The HR, who will be supported by a European External Action Service (EEAS), will also serve as a Commission vice-president and will technically be the Union's foreign minister. 

Moreover, the new treaty provides for an extension of the Petersberg Tasks on peacekeeping, disarmament and conflict prevention and resolution as well as 'permanent structured cooperation' of those member states "whose military capabilities fulfil higher criteria and which have made more binding commitments". 

The text also includes first-ever mutual defence and solidarity  clause in an EU treaty. 

  • 1 Jan. 2009: Treaty of Lisbon enters into force, provided that it has been ratified by all 27 EU member states. 

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