The half-failure of permanent structured cooperation is looming (v2)

(B2) Two and a half years on, permanent structured cooperation (PESCO) is struggling to show results. And this is not the fault of the Covid-19 crisis

(crédit: DICOD / EMA)

A scathing report

The report concocted within the EU military services, which B2 was able to read and dissect in advance, is highly technical and full of various acronyms and jargon (1). This mid-term review nevertheless reveals a fundamental fact, sometimes in a crude way. It is therefore understandable that it has not yet been published by the European authorities. And that they are reluctant to do so, for fear of calling the Member States too violently to account, thus accusing them of indigence and lack of will.

Commitments that have not been fulfilled

First of all, States are struggling to fulfil the commitments they have solemnly undertaken. Failure hovers over the most innovative instrument of cooperation under the Lisbon Treaty, which was ceremoniously unleashed at the end of 2017. Some do not even bother to detail how they are implementing these commitments. Others (eleven according to our information) simply copy what they put on NATO’s side. In fact, when they are told about the European Union, the majority of member states openly think of NATO. This is the opposite of the effect sought by PESCO.

States that are not very studious

“Most of the information provided” in the various commitment chapters is “not substantially completed”, the report says. Each State seems to consider “differently” what is strategic in the commitments. In some areas, the way in which commitments are implemented is “partially fulfilled or not fulfilled at all”.

Projects that are struggling to move forward

As for the 47 projects (2) initiated within the framework of PESCO, let us be clear. This is a debacle! Only a third of the PESCO projects could succeed. The others are still at the bottle-feeding stage, or even stillborn. To be more polite, we talk about “ideation”: the generation of ideas. Thirty projects are thus in this preparatory phase of ideation. And there seems to be little hope of seeing them realized in a short time. “Although an IOC [initial operational capability] date is indicated for most of them, a clear estimate of the resources required is missing” says the report consulted by B2.

Projects that are PESCO’s thermometer

Of course, you may be told that these projects are not the most important part of this process, above all political. But that is the underside of the iceberg. What appears to be the most concrete in the eyes of all (public opinion, parliaments, industrialists and even European institutions). It is moreover with this objective in mind that they have been integrated, from the outset, into permanent structured cooperation: to make it possible to illustrate the progress of integration.

Projects that take time to come to fruition

This slowness can be explained for industrial projects that are spread over ten years. It is difficult to explain for cooperation projects where a certain political will is sufficient. All the more so as several of these projects were not started on the day the PESCO was launched, but well before (in the framework of NATO, for example, at national or bi-national level). The reflection should therefore already be well advanced.

Useful projects not operational

Why, for example, are the European medical command (the PESCO No. 1 project), the logistics hub (two projects led by Germany) and the military disaster development facility (a project led by Italy) not yet fully operational? Such arrangements would have been extremely useful during the coronavirus crisis. So was the Cyber Response Team (Lithuanian project).

Duplications and lack of strategic relevance

Why are there two or three similar cyber or training projects? Does developing an intelligence school (Greek-Cypriot project), new frigates (Italian project), artillery fire support (Slovak project) or a new armoured vehicle (Italian project) really address priority European shortfalls that cannot be carried out elsewhere?

What can be done?

Tackling the problems

The defence ministers of the 27 will have to tackle these issues head on. They will have to put aside this widespread idea of making only minor changes to a device that is so difficult to develop. The number of projects will have to be drastically reduced. There must be a real political will to drive them forward.

Have precise and transparent criteria for progress

In order to meet the commitments, measurable, realistic, time-bound and specific criteria will need to be established. It will be necessary to take opinion and parliaments as witnesses, making implementation reports public, on a State-by-State basis. As in economic matters. This is the only way to verify that progress is being made.

Cleaning up projects

We can (must) really ask ourselves the question: Is it realistic to carry out 46 PESCO projects at once, according to European ambitions and means? Shouldn’t we concentrate on a dozen ‘useful’, ‘priority’ projects and drop the others, which are certainly very interesting? Can’t these projects be carried out on a ‘bilateral’ or ‘multilateral’ basis rather than at the European level (3)?

The risk of the ‘Sleeping Beauty’ falling asleep

Otherwise, the beautiful edifice risks being buried in the graveyard of the beautiful European ideas that have never really been realised and which dawdle from one year to the next, imprinting on public opinion a disastrous idea: a big bureaucratic mechanism without any real efficiency.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

  1. This report should have been presented to Defence Ministers on 12 May, but the entire session was devoted to Covid-19. It will be the subject of the ministerial meeting on 16 June.
  2. 46 projects at present to be exact. There were 47 at the start. But one of them has already filed for bankruptcy according to our information.
  3. The 10% bonus promised under the European Defence Fund is certainly not unrelated to the enthusiasm of the Member States to present so many projects.

Read also dossier N°58. The slow progress of Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO)

Nicolas Gros-Verheyde

Rédacteur en chef du site B2. Diplômé en droit européen de l'université Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne et auditeur 65e session IHEDN (Institut des hautes études de la défense nationale. Journaliste depuis 1989, fonde B2 - Bruxelles2 en 2008. Correspondant UE/OTAN à Bruxelles pour Sud-Ouest (auparavant Ouest-France et France-Soir).