Europe’s security environment has changed dramatically in the past few years. Russia’s aggressiveness, the persistent instability in the Middle-East and North-Africa, increased terrorist threats across Europe, new geopolitical uncertainty following the UK referendum and the result of the US elections, all call for the European Union to face its responsibilities in security and defence.
Closer defence integration would bring more security for European citizens, more stability at the EU borders, more efficient military spending, and a stronger voice for the EU at global level. A strong European defence would complement and strengthen NATO, leading to a more robust and balanced transatlantic relation and a better effectiveness of NATO in the regions bordering the European Union.
The recent measures pursued by the European Union to foster defence cooperation go in the right direction. They should be pursued without delay. However, the priority should be to move beyond a simple increase of intergovernmental cooperation among Member States – which has proven its limits time and again – towards true European capabilities and strategic autonomy.
1. A Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), as provided in the Lisbon Treaty, should be established to enable the group of EU Member States willing to proceed with closer defence integration to do so. Ways should be found to prevent that the deployment of any military forces of the PESCO is blocked by non-participating Member States.
2. A single Permanent Military Headquarter should be created, with the responsibility to plan and run all EU military missions. It should be headed by a Military Operations Commander. It should complement the EU Civilian Planning and Conduct Capability. It should enable the EU, when it so decides, to respond to crises without relying exclusively on NATO. It should be able to support the newly established European Border and Coast Guard Agency.
3. EU permanent multi-national forces should be established, to be deployed in EU missions and operations upon decision of a Council of Defence Ministers (to be set up). As a first step they could consist of and integrate all military and civilian resources currently engaged in EU and UN missions as well as the EU Battlegroups and Eurocorps, which should all be put at the permanent disposal of the EU. Such permanent forces should gradually grow and integrate a greater number of forces, assets and capabilities of the participating Member States. Eventually, with a Treaty revision, they should become own permanent integrated EU forces.
4. A European Fund for Defence should be created, financed by own resources (which could include an own defence tax) and/or by Eurobonds that could be issued by the EU or by the Member States participating in the Permanent Structured Cooperation. The fund could initially finance research and development projects in the field of defence to acquire and develop EU defence technologies and capabilities. Prospectively it could fund the acquisition of infrastructural assets at the European level, the operation of the Permanent EU Military headquarter and the funding of EU missions and operations, taking over the related expenses of the Member States.
5. An enhanced political union will be required to achieve a true European Defence Union and ensure the democratic accountability of further defence integration. The European Parliament should be fully involved in defence matters, starting by upgrading the subcommittee on Security and Defence to a fully-fledged committee. A Council configuration of Defence Ministers should be created and chaired by the High Representative. At the next Treaty revisions, the decision-making process should shift from unanimity to qualified majority voting and the European Parliament should be granted full involvement in these matters on an equal footing with the Council. The European Commission should assume a greater executive role in this field building around the role of the High Representative.