What can Europe expect from a defence union?

The foreign and defence ministers of 23 EU states have signed a joint notification in Brussels that paves the way for a European defence union. Joint defence projects, multinational military units and a joint army headquarters are on the agenda. EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini talked of this being a historical moment in Europe's history. Some commentators agree, while for others there are still many question marks hanging over Pesco.

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Blog euinside (BG) / 14 November 2017

Europe taking a fresh approach with Pesco

Pesco points the way ahead for European integration, Adelina Marini writes in her blog euinside:

“It's a very unusual framework. To a certain extent it resembles the deeper cooperation on which at least nine member states can agree when it comes to a joint path on integration. It also resembles a multilateral agreement between governments, yet it remains entirely within the framework of EU legislation. ... Pesco paves the way for a brand new type of flexible cooperation. It is open to states joining and withdrawing, and member states are not obliged to take part in all Pesco projects. But nor can they refuse to participate in all projects. The concept of decisions being taken by a qualified majority boosts this flexibility.”

Karjalainen (FI) / 15 November 2017

Delayed fulfilment of Finnish hopes

Only now is the EU offering Finland what most of its citizens expected from it all along, Karjalainen writes:

“When the Finns were considering whether joining the EU was worthwhile in the first half of the 1990s, security policy was at the top of their list, ahead of trade and easier travel. It was the same for the politicians even though they didn't say so as openly as the people. If it hadn't been for the Russian border and the experiences of World War II, like Norway Finland would probably have decided to stay outside the EU. The Finns' belief that the EU would offer them more security was perhaps a little naive in the 90s. Because it was only on Monday that the first significant step towards closer cooperation on defence was taken.”

Dialogos (CY) / 14 November 2017

New problems on the horizon

Politician Giorgos Koukouma points out in an opinion piece for Dialogos that the defence union raises questions about the EU's relationship with Turkey:

“[Nato Secretary General] Jens Stoltenberg welcomes Pesco as 'good for Nato' and explained that 'we need to be sure that forces and capabilities developed under Pesco are also available for Nato' and that 'we need the fullest possible involvement of non-EU Nato Allies'. ... It's clear that the Nato Secretary General was referring here to Turkey, or at least the Turkey that Pesco should actually protect us from.”

La Stampa (IT) / 14 November 2017

Europe showing its mettle

This is at last a step in the right direction, La Stampa comments approvingly:

“After so much empty talk about 'more or less Europe' yesterday an important step was taken towards demonstrating in concrete terms what the EU can and must offer its member states and citizens: more security and (a little) less dependence on others' generosity. At the moment it's just good intentions, but a Europe that wants to build its own military infrastructure to be able to take better care of itself is good news for everyone. Also for Nato partners the US and Canada, who have taken care of Europe's security for three-quarters of a century.”

Tages-Anzeiger (CH) / 14 November 2017

More promises from the EU

Tages-Anzeiger, by contrast, warns that the hopes the project has inspired could soon be dashed:

“There is a danger that just like with the unlimited freedom of movement offered by Schengen and the hopes inspired by the single currency, the EU is once again creating expectations that could soon be disappointed. Certainly, almost all member states are on board at the starting line. However their commitments regarding increased cooperation could quickly turn out to be nothing but lip service. As soon as things start to firm up, people in many capitals will no doubt once more start emphasising national sovereignty. And in that case the so-called EU Defence Union will be little more than a paper tiger.”

Rzeczpospolita (PL) / 12 November 2017

Cleverly marketed but no big deal

Jerzy Haszczyński, Rzeczpospolita's foreign affairs editor, isn't too optimistic about Pesco either:

“It's good that Poland is part of the initiative because this will make it easier for it to ensure that the project doesn't endanger Nato's unity. Because Nato, or more specifically the US, is and will remain the guarantor of our security for a long time to come. ... The soldiers of the EU states will continue to wear different uniforms and they won't all use the same munition. ... It would already be progress if a few small units were sent to fight the terrorists in the African desert. Nor will the EU ever be a nuclear superpower that could counter Russia's strength. ... Pesco is a modest project that will be pitched as a huge success.”

Kurier (AT) / 14 November 2017

We can always pull out

Kurier uses the example of Austria to highlight how the EU member states aren't really serious about joint defence:

“Joining in the project that goes by the name 'Permanent Structured Cooperation' (Pesco) entails little risk for Austria: it gets to benefit from the competence and achievements of others while contributing its own best practice experiences without any risks, for example in the area of mountain infantry training. For now, that is. Because the long term goal of the EU is a proper defence union. And if France had its way all the preliminary steps for putting together joint combat units would already be under way. Vienna is therefore acting according to the convenient motto: it's good to join in from the beginning. We can always pull out - thanks to our neutrality.”

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