Blog AnalysisEU Defense (Doctrine)

European Defense Union: what is advancing, what is blocking

(B2) The joint meeting of EU foreign affairs and defense ministers (Monday afternoon) should be an important meeting, marked by several steps towards what could be called the European Defense Union.

(credit: EUTM Mali)

It's not the big evening predicted by some (1). But it is an interesting step allowing different projects put on the table over the past one or two years to progress. In an area as sensitive as defense, where the weight of history, national interests and the instinct for sovereignty are evident, we can say that this progress is notable.

Will we talk about the European army?

The word will be on everyone's lips, certainly in the cafeteria, just to have fun, or in comments to the press. But around the table, the subject is not on the agenda. Quite simply because if this terminology has been used in turn by French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in recent days (1), we have stuck to the right word for the moment, without any details or roadmap and even less action plan. Better, on the French side, we backpedal; French diplomats are at pains to clarify that their president did not really mean a European army, he was rather thinking of the European intervention initiative, and the defense fund, ongoing defense projects, etc. We call on the manna of the Sorbonne speech to explain that the president is still in the same vein. In short, we don't take responsibility.

What are the specific advances?

First advance, the military mini-HQ, called in technical terms the MPCC or military planning and conduct capacity (the European equivalent of the French CPCO) will be reinforced by 2020 both in personnel and in its functions. Concretely, he will now be able to lead a European Union military operation (under UN mandate or EU mandate) of a modest size (2500 men).

Second advance, the missions of the civilian CSDP. The '28' agree that they need to be strengthened. These missions (police, justice, customs, rule of law) which take a long time to deploy, suffer from a shortage of personnel, and often struggle to be effective. The '28' have thus committed to being able to deploy a mission of 200 people maximum in 30 days maximum... " from the decision » of the launch policy. Let's hope that this commitment (which is not the first of its kind) will not end up in a nice drawer.

Third advance (and not the least), the European Defense Fund proposed by the European Commission last June is progressing at good speed. Ministers adopt their 'general approach', what could be considered a 'provisional first reading'. It is now up to European parliamentarians to establish their position. Which will be done in the coming days. The objective of reaching an agreement before the spring and the European elections is now possible.

Fourth step forward, permanent structured cooperation in matters of defense (PESCO) has not yet shown its first results. But it strengthens and completes little by little. After launching a first wave of projects (in March), adopting rules on how to verify each party's commitments (in June), Defense Ministers adopt a second wave of projects, which notably includes the European MALE drone ( medium altitude, long endurance), project led by the PESCO quartet (France, Germany, Spain, Italy).

Here is a first representation, in map of the number of projects, country by country (the number in parentheses indicates the number of countries coordinated by the country). France is, with Italy, the country which participates in the most projects. It is in third position, behind Germany and Italy for the number of coordinated projects.

Fifth advance, which is more tenuous, on military mobility. On this seemingly easy question - how to facilitate the movement of troops and resources in Europe - complex in fact - because it concerns heavy infrastructure... and the deep sovereignty of States, we have started to move forward. A first list (complete – 128 pages) of recommendations and recommendations was made. It will serve as a basis for identifying projects that can be financed from the European budget.

What is more difficult?

Operation Sophia is blocking things. We're in a game of lying poker, where each person holds the other's goatee, hoping that the other will give in. Italy does not want to welcome all migrants automatically and wants a specific solution to facilitate rotation between disembarkation ports; other countries do not want this solution. And everyone waits. In the meantime, the clock is ticking, and the boats involved in the operation are becoming rarer. And the fateful date of December 31 is getting closer.

La european peace facility, a financial instrument for operations, does not yet arouse full consensus. The difficulties are many. And many points remain to be discussed in order to reach a compromise. " It will take a little time concedes a diplomat to B2.

La NATO-EU cooperation. The atmosphere is better between the two organizations. It's certain. But, despite mutual self-celebration, when we look into the details, the atmosphere seems less playful. For example, for military mobility, the priorities of some (NATO) do not coincide with the priorities of others (European Union).

Defense spending. Despite a certain rise, the defense budgets of European countries remained, in 2017, at the level of 2005. Research and technology spending reached a low ceiling.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

  1. On Europe1 radio for the first on November 9, in the European Parliament for the second on November 15. Read : What if the European army was a project for the future?

Read also:

Updated on 20.11 with the map of Pesco projects and a mention of defense projects, the mention of military mobility (in the '+') and defense budgets (in the '-')

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).