Moves to forge closer EU defence cooperation branded "worrying"

The potential creation of an EU army was certainly a contentious issue in the run-up to the UK’s EU Referendum on 23rd June last year, writes Peter Lyon.

Leave campaigners pointed to the dangers of integrating Britain’s armed forces into an EU military force, run by unelected bureaucrats in Brussels. Meanwhile, Remain campaigners, including the former Prime Minister, David Cameron, denied there was any possibility of an EU army on the horizon. Since the Referendum, the European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, has spearheaded this initiative, using the imminent departure of the UK – the Member State most sceptical about defence integration – to press on with these ambitious defence and security plans. 

At a time when – under the US President Donald Trump - the USA is somewhat retreating from global security, European leaders understandably feel the need to boost defence budgets. European federalists have, unsurprisingly, seized on this opportunity to extend EU competences in the sphere of security and defence. The complicated web of EU defence programmes will undoubtedly increase European defence capabilities, but will also pose challenges to European countries seeking to maintain national independence on defence issues.

 There are myriad proposed and existing EU schemes on defence which cover aspects of defence policy - such as military planning, defence funding, procurement and research. The complexity makes them easier to be implemented – and without the public being fully informed!


Firstly, the European Defence Agency (EDA) has expanded its remit into strategy and policy. In May, the Military Planning and Conduct Capability (MPCC), a permanent EU military HQ, was agreed. A month later, the European Defence Fund (EDF) was announced, to supervise greater collaboration between EU countries on defence spending. This fund, predicted to generate a total of €5.5bn (£4.9bn) by 2020, will be financed directly from Member States, and will pay for joint acquisition and development of strategic military and intelligence assets, placing Brussels at the heart of decision-making. It will consist of separate funds covering research and industry: the European Defence Research Programme (EDRP) and the European Defence Industrial Development Programme (EDIDP).

Worryingly, associated with the EDIDP are Single Market rules to enhance the ever-increasing powers of the European Commission over national industries important for defence. This will endanger the ability of each nation to defend itself. Instead, each nation will be reliant on decision-making in Brussels! 

The latest connected initiative is the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), which EU Commissioners have described as a “precursor to an EU military”. 23 Member States have already signed up, while two more, Portugal and Ireland have indicated they will join, leaving only Britain, Denmark and Malta outside the formal PESCO structure. PESCO countries will combine resources to develop new weapons and undertake joint missions, from its launch at the next Foreign Affairs Council meeting on 11th December.

Even countries outside PESCO, like the UK, will be drawn into the overall PESCO system via participation in the European Defence Fund as well as deals on military equipment by UK companies. Through these associated programmes and deals, involvement in an EU army could be imposed on Britain by the back door. 

After PESCO was agreed, the EU High Representative, Federica Mogherini, hailed this “important moment” which put together “all the building blocks of a defence and security union.” This is the overall aim: a Defence Union capable of undertaking peacekeeping missions, fighting terrorist organisations and worryingly, temporarily replacing national police forces in times of crisis, hence undermining the sovereignty of national police and military forces, and side-lining NATO.

Involvement in these structures would result in Member States allowing the delegation of authority on issues of defence and industrial production of military resources to a EU-led decision-making process. Most importantly, it threatens the independence of national militaries, as they will be forced to operate under EU control.

A further significant danger is the weakening of the important and well-established role of NATO, crucially shifting military decision-making power in Europe to Berlin and the EU. American interest in the security of Europe via NATO is waning, as many European countries fail to meet their 2% of GDP spending target. An extensive EU Defence Union outside NATO structures could be the trigger to cause Donald Trump to pull out of support for NATO, arguing it would be unfair to continue subsidising Europe via NATO while the Europeans are focusing on funding and support for a rival European Defence Union. EU budget demands on Member States will have to increase in any case, as its second biggest net contributor, the UK, is leaving, so the affordability of an EU Defence Union is under question. A better solution would be for individual countries to increase their own defence spending up to the NATO target, outside EU structures, but this is unlikely, given the federalist instincts of most European leaders.

The vote to Get BritainOutof the EU was a rejection of, among other things, the European integration of defence and security. It would be a pity if Juncker, Mogherini and other EU chiefs used Brexit as an opportunity to undermine the military independence of EU Member States. Self-sufficient national defences and a strong NATO – not an EU army – are in the interests of everyone concerned about security in Europe.

Peter Lyon is a Research Executive at cross-party campaign group  Get Britain Out

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