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Defense becomes priority number 1, speech is freed up, projects come out. Thanks David!

We are not yet at too robust missions. But there is no longer any question of being shy (credit: EMA / DICOD - B2 archives) departure of pilots from the Chammal force
We have not yet reached overly robust missions. But there is no longer any question of being timid (credit: EMA / DICOD – B2 archives) departure of pilots from the Chammal force

(BRUSSELS2) A “relaunch” of European defense after Brexit is on everyone’s minds. And the titles bloom like lily of the valley in May. But in truth, this recovery is, for the moment, still limited. Or at least we shouldn't see what is being presented these days as a consequence of Brexit... it's quite the opposite. On the other hand, speech is freed... And, for that, all those who even believe that European defense is useful can say: thank you David!

Let's try to see clearly!

We must be careful, in fact, not to confuse what was already “in the pipeline” and was, in any case, going to come to fruition, and what could either be reactivated or put in place. Between the enthusiasm of the novice, who discovers the moon, or jumps in the air saying to himself 'hey Europe of defense exists' and the barely jaded comment of the old man who has come back from everything, who says to himself, but in 1926 or 1958 we had already thought about it or 'it won't work anyway'... there is a space for measurement and reality.

A little time needed for preparation

If little has come out recently on defense, the fault lies, in fact, partly with the British referendum but also with the time needed to prepare a whole series of initiatives, after the 'frozen' period of the Ashton- Barroso and the European elections. When we look closely, we see that the coming months in the field of defense, internal and external security will be rich in completed projects (regularly commented on in our columns). Here are some examples below…

Safety priority number one

What seems certain, however, is that security and defense have now been elevated to priority number 1. The declaration of the three Franco-German-Italian leaders testifies to this. But also certain imperceptible signs. A recent declaration by Franco-German employers also put it ahead of other economic priorities. Because, more than anything, the continent needs security. Only with security can there be economic development. The formula applicable to African or Asian countries is also true for European countries.

It comes out or it pulses!

What is in preparation and will be released on the 'defense' side in a few days

The overall strategy, written under the leadership of Federica Mogherini, which is rather ambitious even if it is not very confusing, is published today (without much change for several weeks in fact). It should be quickly supplemented with 'sub-strategies', including one on security and defense. The Commission is also preparing a defense action plan by the end of the year, a sort of “community” complement to the Global Strategy.

The defense-related research preparatory action should emerge from limbo in a few days, a prelude to a future framework program beyond 2020. It should be followed by an initiative aimed at financing the equipment of (African) armies, a fundamental point demanded loudly by France and all the heads of operations/missions.

The maritime operation in the Mediterranean will take a step forward in a few days (or weeks), moving from a 'nice' phase to a more 'robust' option with control of the arms embargo, while waiting for another European mission to be deployed. to help Libyans rebuild their security forces (police, gendarmerie, justice, customs, etc.).

This type of initiative cannot be prepared in 48 hours. And was only marginally impacted by Brexit. The reform of crisis management structures, which is currently under wraps and continues in the shadow of meetings of ambassadors or working groups, should however receive a boost with the British exit. The idea of ​​a civil-military HQ is now openly discussed (where yesterday we were talking about “reinforcement”, “synergy” or “reorganization” in an internal organization chart :-).

Things are also moving 'on the internal security side'

At the 'inner' level, things are also moving. But the driving force here is more linked to the two major crises that Europe is experiencing: the migration crisis and terrorism. Because Brexit or not, in any case, the United Kingdom does not participate in most of these initiatives or legislation.

The establishment of a European body of border and coast guard constitutes a fundamental innovation, and a real leap in the joint management of borders (joint management which was for the moment quite theoretical). European anti-terrorist legislation is about to be strengthened (in criminal terms, financing, PNR, etc.)… And the Europol anti-terrorist center is (slowly) being put in place (more administratively than operationally). for the moment).

A liberated word

In the end, if Brexit has an effect on defense, it is – like a popping champagne cork – to free up speech. All the political leaders who were silent or lowered their tone to talk about defense - because it 'was going to embarrass the British', 'it wouldn't happen', it was 'counterproductive' they said -. suddenly seem to find their 'brains', their 'convictions', their words. The terms “strategic autonomy” and “autonomous capabilities” (1) which were taboo are now openly assumed, even put forward.

Ideas come out

It will still take time to articulate and relate what emerges from the 'beautiful intention' to what is more concrete. But the simple fact that today we dare to talk again about setting up permanent structured cooperation (never put in place and never even discussed very seriously), about having a civil-military operational command at European level (which was in preparation but very very discreetly), to have autonomous capabilities at Europe's disposal - as the Franco-German paper very officially does - is a very good thing.

The hour of truth

It's actually the moment of truth now. We will see those who were content to speak but preferred to shelter behind this good old British veto and the others. Two dangers await this 'relaunch'. We must be careful not to fish out (old, good) ideas which are no longer entirely suitable today or, quite simply, do not take into account internal imperatives (budgetary, political, operational). You should also take the opportunity to take inventory. There is a lot of work to be done today. We must reserve 'human strength' for what is essential. This means stopping the useless or, at least, the lack of concrete and visible results.

A right of inventory and questioning

Is it necessary today to continue working on 'headline goals'? Is it necessary to keep battlegroups if we know very well that they will not be able to leave (lack of financial, operational and political decision-making resources)? Isn't it time to close certain CSDP missions whose real advantage is questionable - and even discussed internally? Should we not ask ourselves the question of the sprinkling of various development projects whose sole aim is to spend the indicated envelope or to be able to say that Europe is the 'best student' in the class? Etc.

Think about what is necessary and useful

It's not about breaking everything. But we must no longer have taboos... It's about thinking about the right instruments, in the right place. I think it's better to spend a little less a little better (for development) and have a little fewer missions (but more efficient) than replicating the current model.

For an upgrade in defense Europe

Today, Europe and Europeans can no longer afford approximations, or false victory statements (more worthy of North Korean propaganda than European information). We can no longer afford to do the same thing as yesterday just because we were doing it yesterday and not doing it again would be dangerous. Defense Europe deserves a real aggiornamento, a complete review of what must be done, what must be abandoned, what must be developed.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

(1) These terms had notably sparked lively discussions during the summit devoted to Defense in December 2013, and crossed out from the final conclusions, under pressure from a certain... David Cameron who had made it his red line, overinterpreting this fact to denounce the transfer of skills to Brussels. Read : David Cameron sounds the (heroic) charge...

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Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).