EU coun­tries sign de­fence pact

The Phnom Penh Post - - WORLD - Da­mon Wake

THE Euro­pean Union took a step to­wards closer de­fence ties on Mon­day, with 23 states sign­ing a land­mark pact aim­ing to boost co­op­er­a­tion af­ter Brexit and as Rus­sia flexes its mus­cles to the east.

The per­ma­nent struc­tured co­op­er­a­tion on de­fence agree­ment (Pesco) seeks to im­prove EU co­or­di­na­tion on de­fence and weapons sys­tems de­vel­op­ment. It is part of ef­forts led by Ger­many and France to re­boot the Euro­pean Union af­ter Bri­tain’s shock de­ci­sion to quit and fol­lows the an­nounce­ment in June of a € 5.5 bil­lion ($6.4 bil­lion) Euro­pean De­fence Fund.

The EU’s diplo­matic chief Fed­er­ica Mogherini hailed the agree­ment as “a new page of Euro­pean de­fence”, say­ing coun­tries had al­ready pro­posed more than 50 projects.

Sim­i­lar ef­forts to deepen mil­i­tary links have been frus­trated for decades, partly by Bri­tain’s fierce op­po­si­tion to any­thing that might lead to a Euro­pean army. But Brexit and Rus­sia’s an­nex­a­tion of Crimea in 2014 has once again brought the need for a strong Euro­pean se­cu­rity stance back into fo­cus.

The shift in US pol­icy un­der Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump – who berated Euro­pean part­ners on mil­i­tary spend­ing at a NATO sum­mit in May – has also led many to ques­tion whether Wash­ing­ton can be re­lied upon to pro­tect Europe as it has in the past.

“It was im­por­tant for us es­pe­cially af­ter the elec­tion of the Amer­i­can pres­i­dent that we can or­gan­ise our­selves in­de­pen- dently as Euro­peans,” Ger­man De­fence Min­is­ter Ur­sula von der Leyen said.

“This is com­ple­men­tary to NATO, but we also see that no­body will solve the se­cu­rity prob­lems that Europe has in its neigh­bour­hood – we have to do it our­selves.”

NATO will re­tain its pri­mary role, but Mogherini said the EU could of­fer re­sources the al­liance does not have, such as nav­i­gat­ing se­cu­rity and de­vel­op­ment is­sues in Africa.

Boost­ing spend­ing

Pesco could, in the­ory, lead to the cre­ation of a Euro­pean op­er­a­tional head­quar­ters or lo­gis­tics base, but will first fo­cus on projects to de­velop new mil­i­tary equip­ment such as tanks or drones. The agree­ment com­mits coun­tries to “reg­u­larly in­creas­ing de­fence bud­gets in real terms” as well as de­vot­ing 20 per­cent of de­fence spend­ing to pro­cure­ment and 2 per­cent on re­search and tech­nol­ogy.

Mogherini said that by co­or­di­nat­ing their ef­forts, Euro­pean coun­tries would get bet­ter value for money in de­fence.

“The real is­sue is not how much we spend but the fact we spend in a frag­mented man­ner,” she said.

The deal also binds coun­tries to pro­vide “sub­stan­tial sup­port” in ar­eas, in­clud­ing per­son­nel, for EU mil­i­tary mis­sions – an area that has proved prob­lem­atic in the past.

Coun­tries sign­ing up to Pesco will be sub­ject to an an­nual re­view to make sure they stick to their com­mit­ments – and could be thrown out if they do not.

Af­ter Mon­day’s cer­e­mony, the deal is set to be for­mally launched on the eve of the next EU sum­mit in De­cem­ber, at which point it will be­come legally bind­ing.

Bri­tain pledges ‘sup­port’

Paris and Ber­lin of­fered com­pet­ing vi­sions for the pact, with France push­ing for a smaller group of na­tions to com­mit to am­bi­tious projects in­clud­ing pos­si­ble for­eign in­ter­ven­tions such as in Libya or Mali.

Ger­many wanted as many coun­tries as pos­si­ble to sign up but for it to un­der­take more mod­est schemes, and Ber­lin’s vi­sion looks to have won the day.

Frederic Mauro, a de­fence ex­pert who ad­vises the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment, said he was “deeply scep­ti­cal” about the fi­nal form of the pact, de­scrib­ing it as “light years” away from the con­cept of de­fence co­op­er­a­tion fore­seen in EU treaties.

“The Ger­mans say re­spect unity and pro­ceed mod­estly at the start with . . . all these lit­tle projects – they won’t help the EU’s in­de­pen­dent ca­pac­ity,” Mauro said. “It has no chance of work­ing.”

New projects will re­quire unan­i­mous ap­proval of all coun­tries signed up for Pesco, mak­ing it harder to get agree­ment on con­tentious is­sues.

Bri­tain, which is leav­ing the EU, and Den­mark, which has an opt-out in de­fence mat­ters, did not sign, along with Ire­land, Por­tu­gal and Malta.

Bri­tish For­eign Min­is­ter Boris John­son said that even though it was not tak­ing part, the UK saw prom­ise in Pesco and pledged to be “sup­port­ive”. Mem­ber states who choose to sit out now can join later – sub­ject to ap­proval by the early adopters.

Coun­tries that are not in the EU can also take part in spe­cific mis­sions – open­ing the way to pos­si­ble par­tic­i­pa­tion by nu­clear power Bri­tain af­ter it leaves the bloc in 2019 – though they will have no role in de­ci­sion­mak­ing.

CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP

Ger­man Min­is­ter of De­fence Ur­sula von der Leyen (cen­tre) poses with sol­diers of the moun­tain in­fantry brigade 23 near the Bavar­ian vil­lage Bad Re­ichen­hall, south­ern Ger­many, on March 23, 2016.

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