EU signs land­mark de­fence pact

Daily Dispatch - - Social/ World -

THE EU moved to­wards closer de­fence ties yes­ter­day with more than 20 states sign­ing a land­mark pact that aims to boost co­op­er­a­tion af­ter Brexit and coun­ter­act Rus­sian pres­sure.

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 EU’s diplo­matic chief Fed­er­ica Mogherini hailed the agree­ment as “a new page of Euro­pean de­fence” as she ar­rived for the meet­ing of for­eign and de­fence min­is­ters where the deal will be signed.

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 EU af­ter Britain’s de­ci­sion to leave and fol­lows the an­nounce­ment in June of a bil­lion (R93-bil­lion) Euro­pean De­fence Fund.

The pact’s back­ers say it will com­ple­ment Nato, which will keep its pri­mary role in de­fend­ing Eu­rope.

The no­tice of in­tent pledges that coun­tries will pro­vide “sub­stan­tial sup­port” in ar­eas in­clud­ing per­son­nel, equip­ment, train­ing and in­fra­struc­ture” for EU mil­i­tary mis­sions.

It also com­mits coun­tries to “reg­u­larly in­creas­ing de­fence bud­gets in real terms”, as well as de­vot­ing 20% of de­fence spend­ing to pro­cure­ment and 2% on re­search and tech­nol­ogy.

“We have more than 20 mem­ber states . . . not just sign­ing pa­per – un­der­tak­ing com­mit­ments in terms of spend­ing on de­fence and joint projects,” an EU of­fi­cial said.

Pesco could lead to the cre­ation of a Euro­pean mil­i­tary hos­pi­tal or lo­gis­tics hub, but will first fo­cus on projects to de­velop new mil­i­tary equip­ment with the aim of har­mon­is­ing weapons sys­tems and elim­i­nat­ing gaps in ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

France, Ger­many, Spain and Italy are among the na­tions sign­ing up.

Britain and Den­mark will not, along with Ire­land, which is still con­sid­er­ing the is­sue.

Par­tic­i­pa­tion in Pesco is vol­un­tary and those 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 de­ci­sion-mak­ing.

In March, min­is­ters ap­proved plans to cre­ate an em­bry­onic mil­i­tary head­quar­ters to co­or­di­nate EU over­seas se­cu­rity op­er­a­tions.

Coun­tries that sign 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.

The pact has re­vealed strains be­tween Paris and Ber­lin, with the French push­ing for a smaller group of na­tions com­mit­ted to am­bi­tious projects, in­clud­ing pos­si­ble for­eign in­ter­ven­tions such as in Libya or Mali.

Ger­many pushed for as many mem­bers as pos­si­ble un­der­tak­ing more mod­est schemes. With more than 20 of the 28 cur­rent EU mem­bers sign­ing up, Ber­lin’s vi­sion looks to have won the day.

But a de­fence ex­pert who ad­vises the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment, Fred­eric Mauro, said he was “deeply scep­ti­cal” about the pact’s fi­nal form.

“The Ger­mans say re­spect unity and pro­ceed mod­estly at the start with a field hos­pi­tal, joint of­fi­cers’ col­leges . . . all these lit­tle projects won’t help the EU’s in­de­pen­dent ca­pac­ity,” Mauro said. “It has no chance of work­ing.” — AFP

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