Twenty-five EU countries legally formalised their commitment to European defence integration on 11 December. This is something the European Parliament has been pushing for for years.
Most of the European Union's member states have signed up to a plan for closer defence cooperation. Permanent structured cooperation (Pesco) was first signed by 23 EU countries on 13 November, and became legally binding on 11 December following a decision by EU foreign ministers.
Speaking about the agreement on deepening defence cooperation within the EU, Michael Gahler (EPP, Germany) referred to Pesco as “the central institution to ensure that the current isolated strands of military cooperation are put together under one roof”. Gahler who is author of Parliament’s annual report on Europe’s security and defence also stressed the need “to stop European armament producers competing with each other in domestic and third markets”.
What is Pesco?
EU member states first introduced the concept of permanent defence cooperation as part of the Lisbon Treaty. Parliament and the European Commission have always strongly supported it.The main aim is to strengthen the EU’s defence capacity by pooling resources and jointly developing armaments. Pesco also aims to reduce the current patchwork of weapons systems and make Europe’s armed forces more interoperable.Participation is voluntary but once they decide to participate, EU countries must make binding commitments. Failure to honour these commitments could result in suspension from Pesco by the other member states. Decisions on actual deployment will remain a strictly national competence.
The EU’s 28 member states spend 40% of the United States’ expenditure on defence, yet they only manage to generate 15% of the capabilities of their transatlantic counterpart. This points to a very serious efficiency problem. Through projects like the European Defence Fund and the Coordinated Annual Review on Defence, Parliament already strongly supports better-coordinated military spending to eliminate wasteful duplication.
Which countries have signed up to Pesco?
All EU countries except Denmark, Malta and the United Kingdom. They may join at a later date should they commit to the participation criteria and are accepted by the other Pesco members.
Under Pesco, members are expected to jointly develop rapid reaction forces and new capabilities such as tanks and drones. The creation of single European logistics and medical support hubs is also envisaged.There is already a list of common projects, for each of which one member state takes the lead.Each participating member country provides a plan for its national contributions. This will be subject to an annual assessment.
Gahler says he “expects that EU defence policy will become tangible by putting concrete military formats under the framework of Pesco, for example Eurocorps or the European Air Transport Command.”
Pesco versus Nato?
Critics point out that any European defence structure will be counterproductive as it would undermine Nato. However, the agreement to take defence cooperation in the European Union to a new level has been welcomed by Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg: “I believe that Pesco can strengthen European defence which is good for Europe but also good for Nato.”
Gahler also stressed that Nato need not feel undermined: “I am confident that those 22 countries which are both EU and Nato members will ensure that Pesco will be a success in improving military inter-operability and the deployability of our troops.”