With PESCO, EU makes a big step towards joint European military capabilities

European Commission; Photo: European Union

Last Monday, the European Union took a big step towards jointly developing European military abilities and investment in equipment and development. Ministers from 23 of the 28 member states signed a joint notification on the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), forwarding it to the High Representative and the Council. Among the states that have not signed the agreement are Malta, Portugal, Ireland, Denmark and the United Kingdom. The European foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, called the deal a “historic day for European defense”. What’s more, the High Representative announced that the notification letter is open for other member states that might wish to join at a later stage.

The idea of establishing this framework for deepening defence cooperation among the EU member states has been introduced by the Lisbon Treaty, which entered into force in 2009. Permanent Structured Cooperation is designed to make European defence more efficient and to enhance cooperation in the areas of investment and capability development. Moreover, the aim is to reduce the fragmentation of European military spending and to promote regional military integration. This framework for closer cooperation will decrease the number of different weapons’ systems in Europe, but on the other side, it will allow member states to increase the interoperability and industrial competitiveness.

In the light of Brexit and US President Trump’s position on NATO, the purpose is to use military spending to help reinforce the EU’s autonomy to act alone when necessary. European leaders underlined that their intention is not to weaken the Atlantic alliance but just to act more efficiently on the European missions. The aim is to strengthen defence capabilities and to make them ready for EU military operations. With this in mind, EU will enhance its own capacities as an international security partner, also in the same time contributing to protection of Europeans. After Britain decided to leave the EU, deepening defence cooperation seems much easier, as UK was the one who blocked it for years. UK, for instance, has been concerned that it would undermine London’s alliance with Washington.

The Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, previously said in May that “the era in which we could fully rely on others is over to some extent”, and that “we Europeans truly have to take our faith into our own hands”. In addition, she stressed that “we have to do it in friendship with the United States of America, in friendship with Great Britain and as good neighbours wherever that is possible also with countries, even with Russia”.

Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) will have a two–layer structure, including council and projects level. The council level will be responsible for the overall policy direction and assessment mechanism to determine if member states are fulfilling their commitments, while the PESCO’s effectiveness will be measured by the projects it will develop. Each project will be managed by those member states that contribute to it, as written in the factsheet of the European External Action Service (EEAS).

Commenting on this new European defence framework, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that he believes that this can strengthen European defence. “I also welcome the fact that so many European leaders have highlighted or underlined the importance that European defence has to be developed in a way that it’s not competing with NATO, but which is complementary to NATO. We do not need duplication, we do not need competition, but what we need is cooperation and a European defence which is complementing NATO.”


Publication of this article has been supported by the Balkan Trust for Democracy of the German Marshall Fund of the United States