Talk of an “EU army” is seriously premature, but there is much of interest in the historic “PESCO” declarationby Leopold Traugott / November 15, 2017 / Leave a comment
On Monday, representatives from 23 European Union member states agreed to take EU defence integration one step further. As ministers signed up to the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) declaration, speeches were filled with mentions of an “historic day” and “milestone” for the bloc’s integration.
The pact will make some rejoice and others shiver, as it brings the notorious “EU army” idea to mind. But this declaration is, so far, not much more than an interesting proposal. It will not provide the EU with its own armed forces—a proposal brought up and struck down time and again over the last decades—but that is not its aim. Instead, it should be judged on whether it manages to improve European defence cooperation and render investments in research and development more efficient.
During negotiations, PESCO ran into the same problem that most ambitious EU reforms face: everyone agrees that something ought to be done, but they all disagree on what exactly it is and how it can best be achieved. A glance at the main dividing lines behind this new agreement is enough to understand the difficulties of predicting its future trajectory. While France fervently pushed to keep EU defence integration limited to a small group of member states with strong operational commitments, Germany sought a solution as inclusive as possible (Germany seems to have won). Where the French political class holds an historic infatuation with increasing European autonomy from NATO, Eastern member states such as Poland are painstakingly wary of allowing anything that could jeopardise their relationship with the alliance. In the end, everyone had to compromise.
So what exactly did states agree on with PESCO? The founding document sets out 20 binding commitments. On the hard numbers, it stipulates a regular increase of national defence budgets in real terms, and the mid-term goal of spending two per cent of total defence expenditure on research and technology, and 20 per cent on defence investment to fill strategic capability gaps. On soft pledges, it obliges members to act through joint platforms and initiatives, and to help improve the European defence industry’s competitiveness. An important problem quickly becomes apparent: there is no convincing mode of ensuring compliance. Enforcing adherence to soft pledges is always difficult, but having concrete goalposts does not make things a…