By BROOKS TIGNER
BRUSSELS – National foreign affairs and defence ministers jointly approved on 14 November a sweeping new plan to implement the EU’s June 2016 Global Strategy on security and defence. The 31-page document, presented by Federica Mogherini, the EU’s security and defence policy chief, sets out concisely worded, if complex, goals and deadlines for their detailed proposals in 2017.
Coinciding closely with the election of a potentially isolationist Donald Trump as the next US president, the plan’s thrust and timing would appear to suggest a reaction to that, but it has been in the making for at least a year. Even so, if implemented as desired, the Global Strategy could set Europe on the path to a certain degree of strategic autonomy vis-à-vis NATO. More important, it could boost the EU’s ability to manage the blow-back of external threats to Europe’s internal security.
A majority of the proposals in the plan relate to defence issues, and a number of these link to Europe’s internal security. Indeed, the plan’s significance is not just its defence or its security aspects but how these will intertwine in the future. Many of the ideas are not new, but some are.
For example, the plan’s call for the European Defence Agency to identify “key strategic activities” regarding technologies, skills and industrial manufacturing capacities and to set up a “structured dialogue between the member states and industry” is just fancy wording for a very old idea. It refers to the challenge of how to modernise, rationalise and strengthen Europe’s defence and dual-use technological and industrial base (DTIB).
The Commission and the agency have studied this intractable problem for years with no tangible results or cogent plan of attack due to resistance at national level. Nonetheless, the implementation plan calls for the launch of a “suitable pilot case” for EU funding. This might get the ball rolling a bit, but the going will probably be slow and highly politicised.
Another long-lingering idea is the plan’s recommendation to reinforce links between the European External Action Service’s civil situation awareness centre and that of the EU’s Military Staff in order to create a “European hub for strategic information, early warning and comprehensive analysis”. This is a bureaucratic exercise that should have been done long ago.
Mogherini’s document will give a push to other existing ideas as well. For example, it calls for reinforcing ties between the EU’s common security and defence policy (CSDP) and Europol and Frontex (the European Border and Coast Guard Agency). This, it notes, should be done both at the strategic level and operationally to monitor Europe’s land, sea and air borders for purposes of security.
The plan also aims to strengthen cross-cutting strategies in cyber security, maritime security and space, including the EU’s Copernicus and Galileo programmes and their links to CSDP. Again, nothing new but it deserves more attention in view of the EU’s ambitions for a common EU-funded system of government satellite communications, whose secure data streams would serve both civil and military stakeholders.
More novel is Mogherini’s suggestion that the member states create a common pool of strategic lift assets. While the primary purpose would be to enable deployment of the EU’s military battle groups, this could also be used to airlift civil first responders to the scene of a disaster within the EU. That would be a good example of an efficient dual-use capability for the EU.
Also new – finally – will be the plan’s proposal in early 2017 for creating an operational headquarters for the EU’s non-combat military missions. That will strengthen civil-military planning for CSDP missions.
Mogherini will submit her first report on the implementation plan’s progress in June 2017.
As the plan clunkily observes, the aim of PESCO would be “to gather as many Member States to join in stepping up their security and defence commitments as an inclusive effort to strengthen CSDP.”
Its wording on PESCO is significant in two ways, one good, one bad.
The good aspect is that it refers not only to PESCO for defence but for security. That would lay the ground for tighter external-internal security linkages in the future. The bad aspect – pertaining mainly to defence – is that it says there should be room with the “single” PESCO for a “modular and differentiated approach” to projects and cooperative initiatives for its participating countries.
This is EU gobbledygook for the notion of “variable geometry”, or sub-groupings of member states that exclude or include others according to industrial or political imperatives. It brings us right back to today’s overly complex, pipe-stacked, protectionist and unliberalised national markets that constitute Europe’s DTIB. That “modular” approach is a bolt-hole for the member states to prevent any encroachment on their national markets or any pooling of sovereignty (and all the efficiencies that would go along with that) in defence.
The only advantage this kind of PESCO would offer is that a group of nations within it might tap into EU funding for developing a capability, provided the latter offers valued-added at EU level. That is nothing to sneeze at in terms of getting the capability for CSDP missions, for example.
But “modularity” within PESCO will do little to restructure Europe’s DTIB in any significant way because it will be a reinforcement of today’s existing blockages.