We had a lot of development on defense over the last two years. In 2016, the security environment changed, the strategic context was changed and of course the political context with Brexit was changed. It was like the perfect storm and it came together around the publication of the EU Global Strategy. And then in the month afterwards, the European leaders said “OK, defense is one of the major priorities in moving forward”. And the key aim of the European Council is to take more responsibility for European security – which is essentially the flip side of the concept of burden sharing; Europeans should do more either through the EU or NATO. And I think it is important to emphasize that the EU-NATO cooperation was part of this strategy from the outset. In the summer of 2016, we had the first joint declaration on the EU-NATO Cooperation, two years later the second one followed, and I think that was clearly part of the overall package moving forward. So, a lot of things have happened in the European Union. Also tackling new threats and challenges, a considerable enhancement is done on hybrid threats, resilience, disinformation, cyber and so forth.
Military mobility is another very important topic. It actually came one year after the EU Global Strategy and it was also very much driven by member states within the NATO context. It is a very interesting example of complementarity which I think clearly works. Because, the EU was mobilizing instruments that NATO didn’t have. In that sense, we worked with NATO in a collective way to use the same requirements as a baseline and moving forward. I think it is a very interesting example of complementarity at work.
Another example here is that the EU is mobilizing instruments that NATO does not have in a way to tackle European problems when it comes to defense. Here we come to the fragmentation of the defense sector. 80% of the defense investment is still spent on national basis. This is part of a wider and more complex issue which has to do with sovereign thinking and national defense industries. But over time, it has led to this diversification of defense systems in Europe. Obviously, the statistics of too many defense systems in Europe, which is no longer affordable economically, is not efficient and we increasingly feel that we need to change this. But how do we change those habits? I think that the EU has been making efforts to mobilize different instruments; the European Defence Fund, the Coordinated Annual Review on Defence (CARD) (a new instrument to monitor national defense planning and systems) and the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO). Now what has really changed since 2016? There was also a lot of defense cooperation (‘pooling and sharing’) before, but it was not binding, it was voluntary, and not systematic nor structured enough.
With the Permanent Structured Cooperation, we have changed that. The Permanent Structured Cooperation originated in the Lisbon treaty, but it was not activated when the Treaty came into force. As soon as the things changed in the security context and strategic environment, Member States took the lead in 2016-2017 to see if they could activate this provision, which says that PESCO is for those Member States whose armed forces require higher criteria and that make more binding commitments to one another with a view to cooperate in armed missions. I emphasize this because we have had a lot of discussions on what those criteria are and what those more binding commitments would be. In 2017, it was actually a collective work in the Council, but also the Members States like Germany, Spain, Italy and others took the lead to find what are the commitments that we want to undertake. The Treaty provided a protocol regarding the ends and 20 commitments were derived from that. It was very much in line with what the Treaty was inspiring. So, the commitments were notified by Member States to the Council in December 2017. There were about 20 in the first place, as already mentioned – the easiest one to understand is that participating Member States need to regularly increase defense budgets.
If you think where we come from in the European Union before 2016, this was not even a point of debate. Now we do have more binding commitments which were signed by 25 Member States. It is also important to understand the commitments; there is a reporting obligation, Member States have national implementation plans on annual basis which needs to show what they are doing to fulfill their commitments. Then there is an assessment made by the services, the European Defence Agency and the EEAS including EUMS (the European Union Military Staff), and a report to the Council. There is a Treaty clause indicating that if a member is not accomplishing its obligations, it can be forced out. I recognize that, in fact, this might not happen. But for the first time, there is some sort of sanction.
Second, the PESCO projects are designed as a tool to help Member States to fulfill their commitments to one another. It is very important to understand how this assessment should work. PESCO projects are run by different Member States, but these different projects should help implement the commitments that the 25 have made one another. There is a process also to screen proposals for projects on a technical basis. So there are a number of criteria where again the European Defense Agency, the EUMS, and the EEAS policy side screen project proposals based on current priorities. These priorities are set by the Capability Development Plan and are coherent with NATO. The capabilities developed through PESCO remain owned by the Member States who can make them available to other platforms such as NATO, UN etc. It is also important to emphasize that we have projects which have a more operational focus, whereas more others focused on the industry.
When it comes to the question of third states participation in PESCO, which is a current debate, it is important to understand, as I emphasized, that the projects are there to help meet commitments, but they are also formally adopted by the Council, so technically speaking they’re “EU projects”. They are essentially EU projects, while Members States put their resources in. The classified information of a PESCO project is therefore considered EU classified information. So, for a third state to join a PESCO project, it means that it would need to have a security of information clearance within the EU. That’s a very clear legal example. They need to comply with political conditions, for example share our values written in the Treaties, and a number of substantive criteria. If a third states is to join PESCO projects, it should bring an added value, however it should not be in the position to block the programmes or the progress. So, there are a number of criteria that follow from this. Finally, it’s up to the members of individual projects to consider inviting third states. It’s not up to third states to join whichever project they like.
The Council decision on the third states participation in PESCO projects should be ready in a few months. Of course this is a very political discussion, yet, it is also very much a technical and legal discussion. Of course with a key difference to the European Defense Fund. Technically, the key difference in the PESCO context is, it is intergovernmental, the Council and the Commission do not have the same role as in the EDF. So, in that sense there are a lot of differences.
PESCO is part of a wider initiative which is complementary with NATO. It reinforces NATO by focusing on the same priorities and the capabilities. 22 of 28 EU members are NATO allies and 20 of 25 PESCO members are NATO allies so there is a natural interest to make sure we work for the same goals and priorities. And as already emphasized, PESCO and EDF are instruments that do not rule out any other multilateral or NATO collaborations. I think the aim of the Member States is to push defense cooperation to break the deadlock in terms of fragmentation by looking across the borders at how states cooperate.
The Council and the Commission work together to ensure the coherence of what’s being developed on the EDF side and ensure it is largely very complementary with PESCO. But it’s true in terms of coherence that capability development priorities are set by the EU member states of the EU. The work strand on coherence will go on, in terms of cooperation aspects. What are the uses of capabilities? Because PESCO is all about developing capabilities that will be used. And also looking a bit more into strategic aspects.
Last word on the drivers of these developments as it is mostly mentioned. Most of these discussions actually predate Trump, like the EU Global Strategy and the 2013 work on defense. So essentially the “Trump factor” is not driving this process.
*Head of Security Policy Unit, EEAS
This proceedings is transcribed from the author’s speech at New Horizons Summit-2019