By BROOKS TIGNER
BRUSSELS – National defence ministers across the EU are mulling whether to create a joint intergovernmental fund to support defence reform, military training and even the transfer of equipment and weaponry to failed or weak states.
Nominally dubbed the European Peace Facility (EPF), the idea will be fleshed out by Federica Mogherini, the EU’s security and defence policy chief, who has been tasked to put a proposal on the table in a few months for the ministers’ review. The EPF’s launch would coincide with the EU’s next seven-year general budget, which starts in 2021.
Creating the fund could catalyse the EU’s anaemic common security and defence policy (CSDP). But it also raises a host of basic questions about how viable the EPF could be and whether it might inadvertently erode the commitment of those EPF countries who belong to NATO and their pledge to meet its defence spending guideline of 2-percent-of-GDP by 2024.
The main purpose of the EPF would be flexibility. It would avert the stringent restrictions attached to military assistance and development programmes funded from the EU’s budget as its financing would lie outside the EU’s budget. At the same time, though, it would be coordinated with EU policy via the European External Action Service, which Mogherini currently heads.
“We need to make sure that we have adequate resources and instruments to fulfill our level of ambition,” Mogherini said after a 6 March meeting in Brussels of the defence ministers. “The European Peace Facility would allow Europe to lend assistance to our partners’ armed forces in a more flexible way.”
For example, the EU contributes to the cost of peacekeeping operations in Africa via the African Peace Facility, which is administered by the African Union.
The EPF would be similar to the African Peace Facility but with a broader geographic scope “to give the EU the ability to decide autonomously to finance and support our partners”, she said.
Perhaps most surprisingly, Mogherini noted that the EPF’s could “cover our [own] military operations” under CSDP. The EU today has half a dozen civil security and military-oriented CSDP missions across Africa, including three focused on soldier training in Mali, the Central African Republic and Somalia.
The EU’s own CSDP operations are perennially strapped for cash. If the new fund were to inject cash and materiel into them, along with more flexible rules of financing, that would be a revolutionary step.
Why? CSDP missions are nearly entirely funded from national defence ministries anyway, but are subject to the costs-lie-where-they-fall principle, meaning each nation has to cover its own direct costs. The member states’ common fund, known as the Athena Mechanism, is hemmed in by tedious rules and can be used only for shared headquarters costs.
Thus, the idea of a new intragovernmental fund to flexibly support CSDP operations is an enticing one. It could vastly accelerate the EU’s ability to respond to military crises. It could fund peacekeeping operations. And who knows? Perhaps it could even be used to enable the EU’s 10-year old battle groups to finally deploy somewhere. They’ve never budged because of that costs-lie-where-they-fall problem.
None of those options would work, though, if the EPF slides into foreign policy divergence among the member states or the bickering over financial solidarity that has continually beleaguered the Athena Mechanism. Thus, the devil of the EPF’s efficacy will be very much in its details.
First, how large would it have to be in order to be effective? Funding for peace-keeping, rapid deployment or weapon transfers are expensive endeavours. And what would be the risk, if any, to the allies’ funding of NATO operations and missions? Probably the latter risk would be minimal, but it is certainly a question NATO policymakers will be asking. Another subsidiary question is: would EPF-financed weaponry and equipment be donated to or purchased by a recipient country?
And that points to the second big question: if the EPF were to buy military equipment on behalf of a third country, then which EU country’s equipment would be purchased?
If it were simply a matter of used-equipment donations, the member states have long experience in coordinating those transfers. But if a purchase of equipment for a third country is involved, it is unrealistic to think an intragovernmental fund among EU countries would pay for that – or at least not without a long and paralysing cat fight. And that would render the EFP as inflexible as the Athena Mechanism.