USA launches lobbying operation to undermine European Defence Fund

(B2 – exclusive) The Americans have deployed a discreet but very offensive lobbying campaign in all institutional directions: MEPs, the European Commission, the Member States … Target: European Defense Fund

US mission to the EU (credit : US State Department)

The maneuver may seem late. It is more subtle than the previous ones. The Americans are no longer openly and publicly challenging European efforts, the establishment of Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) or the very existence of the European Defense Fund. Well aware of the European tempo, they target the different actors of the negotiation, hoping to insert various amendments, delay the adoption or even completely torpedo the initiative.

Lunch, discreet or less discreet meetings

A luncheon was organized at the invitation of US Ambassador to the EU, Gordon B. Sondland on Wednesday (20 February) to several MEPs (1). A Pentagon official came to deliver a message to the European Commission. Other missi dominici, sometimes of a high-level, were sent to lobby several Member States, usually the most Euro-Atlantic, or even simply to be present in sometimes more confidential enclosure (2). Each time, the same speech was served, which we were able to reconstruct, with some variations.

The message: pay attention to what you are doing!

The first set of warnings aimed to arouse attention and delay any decision: pay close attention to this initiative, carefully study the consequences of what you are doing. The second set of warnings focused on the technological aspect: do not take the risk of missing a technological evolution and no longer being interoperable tomorrow. The third set of warnings was rather economic: there is a risk of duplication, of wasting money. In concrete terms, the Americans are arguing a notable argument: these investments could not be deducted from the commitment to spend 2% on European defense. Finally they prevent more political risks, evoking that of decoupling and endangering Europeans. If these arguments are not sufficient, the threat may become more direct: “You will have to explain yourself with Washington” is stated in substance.

A series of meetings at the White House

Several leaders (Polish, Austrian, Czech, Belgian) have also been received, or will be received, in Washington, at the Pentagon (3), or even directly by Donald Trump (4). States of average importance but which could be sensitive for various reasons (Euro-Atlantism, policy of active neutrality, national industry) to American sirens. These meetings are intended to convince some leaders of US policy based on Iran, Huawei or North Stream 2, but not only, defense issues could be addressed, ‘inadvertently’.

Objective: the strategic autonomy of Europeans

The challenge here is not so much the existence of the European Defense Fund, but some of its aspects which are particularly disturbingly bothering the Americans: firstly, the reduced opening of the Fund to companies from associated countries (ie the United States), and above the obligation for participating companies to refuse any provision aimed at limiting the use of intellectual property products through external legislation. A provision that limits the effects of US technology export limitation legislation (ITAR), and one of the most concrete elements of European strategic autonomy.

Delay the European decision

The other challenge for Americans is to delay the adoption of the text as much as possible. This will give them more time to lobby and even undermine any creation of FEDef. Well informed about the mechanics of the renewal of the European institutions, they know that the window of the coming weeks is crucial for the adoption of the necessary regulations. Any delay in the adoption of the compromise on the FEDef would result in the postponement of its adoption of at least six months, or even a year – the time that the various institutions (Parliament, Commission …) are set up. By means of a change of majority or international context, this could lead otherwise the complete questioning of the FEDef, at least its lessening.

Direct lobbying rather than through NATO

This campaign is not new in itself (5), but it reveals a change of tactics. At first, the Americans had preferred to use their usual channel, via NATO structures or some contacts with Member States, or even by directly criticizing the Europeans (6). These actions have not achieve the desired effect. NATO structures, which in themselves are interested in the creation of the European Defense Fund – which allows (among other things) to finance certain projects already undertaken by member countries at the level of the Atlantic Alliance – reacted rather weakly to American arguments. Too soft even, to the taste of the Americans. Jim Mattis’ departure from his position as Pentagon chief at the end of December in Washington coincided with the deployment of more offensive lobbying, considered “more aggressive” on the European side.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

Article first published in French on B2 Pro on February 21

  1. Lunch was originally scheduled for Monday (February 18th) with the presence of the ambassador. It was then postponed to Wednesday. The US ambassador being not himself present, insists a US diplomat contacted by B2.
  2. This was the case during the last lunch of the Kangaroo group – an informal group set up by Karl von Wogau, former president of the European Parliament’s Defense and Security Subcommittee (SEDE) – devoted to the European army. In the audience, there was one of the defense attachés of the US embassy in Brussels and a former lobbyist of an American industry, there to listen and exchange.
  3. Contacts are very regular with the Polish Minister of Defense Mariusz Błaszczak who negotiates the establishment of a US base in Poland, a strategic goal for the Polish government PiS. Belgian Foreign and Defense Minister Didier Reynders was on 21st-22nd of February in Washington with his counterpart Patrick Shahanan to discuss the “transatlantic links“. Discussions were held with National Security Advisor John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, on other topics. 
  4. Successively Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and then Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš were invited to a meeting with Donald Trump at the White House, the first on 20th of February, the second on 7th of March.
  5. The oldest will remember the intensive lobbying by the United States against Galileo, the arguments have not changed in themselves. Read in particular: Galileo : un torpillage made in Usa
  6. Read also : Les USA tancent l’Europe. Quand le cow-boy tire son flingue, faut-il avoir peur ?

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).