On March 1st European Commission (EC) President Jean Claude-Juncker presented his White Paper on the Future of Europe. The aim of the Paper is to line up 5 potential scenarios for the European integration varying from more deepened federalist-like union to less tight, minimalist economic cooperation. The timing is also not a coincidence: it can give some food for thought for the Rome summit on March 25th celebrating the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the European Economic Community. The Paper received criticism from the left, especially from Gianni Pittella S&D president for not giving a clear indication on what is the EC’s preferred way forward and not committing itself to a more advanced, integrated Europe. There was also a reserved interest from the in-generally EU establishment critical Visegrád 4 countries (Poland, Czechia, Slovakia, Hungary) warning against the disintegration, while in the meantime not committing themselves much towards further integration either.
Despite all the options and scenarios there is one policy area that to some extent everybody agrees upon: security and defence. The V4 while being cautious of further empowerment of the EU institutions agrees in the importance of more coordinated, enhanced European defence cooperation. President Pittella’s criticism is also not coming out of the blue, following an open letter addressing President Juncker on February 15th highlighting the S&D preferences on the topic. The White Paper also includes a timeline for policy specific reflection papers for 2017, placing the European defence debate for early June. The ongoing EU institutional reflection on the policy can help us to understand what to expect and what might be the best option for our common European security and defence. There are other great articles reflecting on the evolution of the EU security up until March, where the long-term background of the current debate is elaborated.
What are the options?
In the open letter signed by President Pittella and Vice-President Maria João Rodrigues the S&D advocates the greater integration of European autonomous defence capabilities “including as regards common management of operations, joint procurement and cybersecurity” and the establishment of “a strong collective defence principle and ensure effective financing”, while also “maintaining full coordination with NATO” and a strengthened partnership with Eastern and Southern neighbours. In his reaction to the White Paper President Pittella reiterated the S&D’s commitment towards the concept of the a Defence Union, which would consist an integrated European pillar of NATO based on battle groups, a joint and permanent EU military headquarters and a single EU budget for military research. With the initial options in the White Paper regarding defence – not as a whole outline – the S&D criticism can be put into perspective.
In the Paper President Juncker names 5 scenarios by 2025, namely 1) “Carying on”, 2) “Nothing, but the single market”, 3) “Those who wants to do more”, 4) “Doing less more efficiently”, 5) “Doing much more together”. In terms of defence capabilities there are actually three options: A) keeping as it is, B) introducing a “multi-speed” solution, and C) initiating the Defence Union.
Scenario 2) of the single market is the least ambitious and not favoured by the EU institutions nor by most of the member states (MS). It would keep up the current set up of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and its defence arrangement Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) which is focusing on defence and military arrangements alongside civilian crisis management (CM) under the guidance of the EC and the European External Action Service (EEAS). Despite the efforts and achievements of the EU in the policy there is a general understanding and call for reform in terms of this policy, hence this scenario is quite unlikely to succeed. There are other great articles reflecting on the role of NATO and the CSDP where the current set-up is further elaborated.
Scenario 1) and 3) introduces the concept of “two-speed” or “multi-speed Europe” in forms of enhanced cooperation or permanent structured cooperation (PESCO) in terms of defence. This would allow (some of) the EU member states to cooperate on military matters without needing a unanimous decision from the European Council. These “coalitions of the willing” can operationalize their defence with the possibility for other member states to join the set-up at some point in the future. Both scenarios have the common minimum of EU wide integration “in terms of research, industry and joint procurement” based on the current EC policy goals. This middle ground between the current set up and the Defence Union can be seen as quite realistic goal to achieve with an open end to further integration.
Scenario 4) and 5) are pursuing the implementation of Defence Union as soon as possible, with specific policy measures, such as establishing an EU counter-terrorism agency and common EU border and coastal guard, thus giving further competences to the EU institutions, while not neglecting the importance of NATO as an organization and aiming for a deeper cooperation in the defence and civilian aspects as well.
The Way Forward?
Putting the White Paper into context, with President Juncker’s speech at its presentation, it does not require much to read between the lines and see that most likely the EC’s preference would be scenario 3) with the PESCO set-up. This would give the measured, step-by-step evolution of defence cooperation while not excluding the potential of it developing into the Defence Union. The question is whether the measured approach is adequate in addressing todays urgent security issues: the institutional challenges of Brexit, the dire conflicts in the European neighbourhood in Libya, Syria and Ukraine with the developments in the foreign policies of Russia and the United States further underlines the relevance for a serious upgrade of the EU security strategy. And the answer might already be at hand, all it would require is a wider support of the plan.
The S&D letter already refers to the Bresso-Brook draft report, which is a bipartisan draft proposal from S&D MEP Mercedes Bresso and EPP MEP Elmar Brok which calls for a long term approach towards the Defence Union, but immediate steps to establish PESCO. It also urges for the production of an EU White Book on defence based on the EEAS Global Strategy, to engage in joint planning-development-procurement of military capabilities and to reaction to cyber-hybrid-asymmetrical threats, continue the EC sponsored European Defence Action Plan, support the European Defence Agency (EDA), flexibility on MS execution of CM under Political and Security Committee (PSC) & EEAS guidance, additional CSDP fund based on MS contribution also with the expansion of Athena mechanism, permanent Military HQ cooperating with the Civilian Planning and Conduct Capability (CPCC) for permanent contingency planning and coordination of mutual defence clause, also institutionalizing bilateral European military structures (e.g. France-UK cooperation) into the EU framework, the advanced financing of EU Battlegroups in order to deploy them for CM, and enhance EU-NATO cooperation on capability development and contingency planning for hybrid threats.
Until June there will be enough time to analyse the already introduced EU proposals and the potential MS reactions. When the EC publishes the reflection paper and presents it on 6th June at the conference in Prague we might know more. One thing is already sure though: there is a common understanding for the need for deeper integration and a well formulated and argued proposal in the form of the “open ended” PESCO. All it takes now is some political will and unity from both the EU institutions and the member states in lining up behind it for the benefit of the whole European community.
UPDATE: The article was written before the Foreign Affairs Council meeting on March 6th, where the steps towards a standing Military Training HQ was unanimously accepted and the possibility of establishing the PESCO was further endorsed.
Laszlo Bugyi (26) a member of the Graduates of Democracy from Hungary, currently studying and working in Denmark at the University of Southern Denmark (SDU), Odense.
 S&D Open Letter to Jan-Claude Juncker on the White Paper ont he EU’s Future. 15th February 2017.
 Ibid. – page 4.
 European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, White paper on the future of Europe, 1st March 2017.
 European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, Quo vadis Europa at 27? Avenues for a united future at 27, 1st March 2017
 European Parliament Committee on Constitutional Affairs, Draft Report on improving the functioning of the European Union building on the potential of the Lisbon Treaty, 20th January 2017. – page 15-16
 Council of the EU, Press release, Council conclusions on progress in implementing the EU Global Strategy in the area of Security and Defence, 6th March 2017.
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