Blog AnalysisEU Defense (Doctrine)

European defense in democratic skid. Beware of the lack of transparency!

(credit: EUNAVFOR Med / Sophia)

(B2) Monday was normally the “historic day” (1), the key moment awaited for years to launch the famous Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), which everyone was waiting for. This day has come. And nothing…

A “historic” day… without a word

Not a word from the High Representative during her final press conference, no memo available to explain the nature of the 17 projects envisaged (2). Only the, to say the least, enigmatic title of the projects was available (at least for those who are not readers of B2 Pro) (3). No technical or military advisor available to explain and detail... Nothing, zero, nada... (4) In itself, this is not illogical, the projects of the Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) are today surrounded by 'a mystery and absolute discretion to the point that one wonders if it is still a European action... (see box)

A priority for citizens, really?

For the European defense project, which has been presented many times as the priority not only for Europe, but to relaunch the bond of trust with citizens, this is a major error. This risks fueling suspicion. In recent days, I was invited to three debates, bringing together people from very different backgrounds and convictions: pacifists (around the pacifism of tomorrow, in the parliament of the Brussels Capital region), convinced Europeans (the European movement in Arras ), senior officers (students of the French war school to prepare for the highest functions). In other words, very distinct audiences. The questions asked after a short presentation proved it…

Lack of information leads to questions…

What is the functioning and control (democratic, of governments) over PESCO? Why do “civil” bodies like the European Union deal with these defense issues? Is there not a risk of militarization of the Union (or dispossession of Member States of their competences)? Isn't the defense research program primarily due to the weight of lobbying by the defense industry? Etc. We see that the questions all revolve around democratic control and the suspicion of a program based on particular interests rather than general interests.

Lack of transparency fuels suspicion

By proceeding on the sly, without debate, with more than limited communication with public opinion, no information and prior consultation with European parliamentarians (5), we inevitably feed suspicion. These are excellent questions. They deserve to have a clear, unambiguous answer. Especially since they occur among audiences rather committed to the European cause. Otherwise, the proven support in the polls for European defense policy risks melting like snow in the sun.

Establish a true European democracy

More generally, despite the fact that the Treaties do not provide for any consultation procedure of any kind for Permanent Structured Cooperation in defense matters, specific procedures for informing and consulting the European Parliament must be provided for (5). The existence of such information, of such a democratic debate, is a necessity if we want the defense project to be shared by public opinion and the population and not to transform into a “techno” debate. reserved for a few. Silence and secrecy fuel suspicions, errors of perception, rumors… And ultimately Euroscepticism.

The European authorities must correct course, raise the bar. Quickly, very quickly…!

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

(1) At least that is the term used by the European institutions themselves.

(2) The High Representative spoke only in a few words at the start of the meeting. What does not appear in our information. A memo was indeed available. But it was officially withheld “for administrative reasons” and was only published 24 hours later. Likewise, a technical briefing was organized but only this Tuesday afternoon (i.e. the day after the decision). “It’s better than nothing” emphasize some officials. It's true.

(3) Read: PESCO will include 17 projects. The final list. Details (V4)

(4) The views and opinions provided for in the Lisbon Treaty (of the High Representative or the European Commission) have thus not been made public.

(5) The important word is “preliminary”. Excellent minds (finger on the seam of the Treaty) will certainly tell me that this is not provided for by the Treaties. Certainly. But, on the one hand, what is not allowed is not automatically prohibited. And it has been observed repeatedly, in the past, and again today, that certain “informal” consultation procedures can be easily undertaken.

CSDP missions fall back on themselves

Our recent requests to visit European missions were met with a polite “no” on two or three occasions. A first planned visit to the Central African Republic (where we paid all the costs) had to be canceled, without any explanation, “on orders from Brussels” at the last moment (which cost us the trifle of a few hundred euros lost due to this counter-order). The second attempt was successful. Our requests for mission visits to EULEX Kosovo (on two occasions) were met with a disguised refusal: 1) no interview with a manager was guaranteed (“come but I can’t guarantee you an interview”, “no manager is there currently”) ; 2) no counter-proposal for a visit program; 3) no possibility of being “embedded”; 4) no possibility of getting into a vehicle, for example (insurance problem), or of attending meetings. Non-transparency has now become the rule in certain missions. B2 is one of the last sites to regularly report on their action. But, honestly, we have doubts about the point of continuing to do so. (NGV)


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).