PeSCo: Increased European defence integration and interoperability

European armies are in increasing need of interoperability. PeSCo might be the way forward

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What does PeSCo mean for EU Defence and Security Integration?

Since the creation of the European Union, there have been several attempts for further integration in the field of defence and security. However, these efforts have often been frustrated by Member States’ desire to retain their national sovereignty. In addition, the US view the policy with a degree of suspicion as it might duplicate the NATO’s functions. However, opinion seems to be changing within European institutions.

NATO soldiers. Source: Shutterstock

Traditionally, Member States develop their military capabilities at the domestic level and only cooperate with like-minded countries based on shared history, geographical situation or strategic interests. This practice has resulted in a fragmented defence industry marred with inefficiencies and unable to compete with major defence companies in the US and Russia.

EU defence interoperability 

Indeed, while the EU constitutes the biggest market in the world, its Member States’ combined market share in the global arms trade over the past five years barely reaches 17.3 % - well behind the US’ 34 % or Russia’s 22 %. The EU is at a clear disadvantage when compared to both powers, which rely on public subsidies for their R&D projects, and generally, allocate a substantially higher amount of resources to their military sector. Furthermore, EU Member States’ resources are not efficiently pooled, which has resulted in duplicated capabilities. For instance, the EU possesses more than 178 major weapons systems, compared to 30 in the US. According to the EU’s official statistics, this lack of cooperation represents a loss of 25 to 100 billion euros per year.

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Despite Member States reluctance to integrate equipment, several recent developments have put the integration of defence and security back onto the EU agenda. Geopolitical developments include the increased strategic assertiveness of Russia, Brexit, the Trump administrations mixed signals with regards to NATO and the EU, the flow of refugees arriving from Syria and the mounting terrorist threat inside and outside its borders.

"The EU possesses more than 178 major weapons systems, compared to 30 in the US"

It is in this context that the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PeSCo) envisaged in the Treaty of Lisbon was activated for the first time in 2017. Within this framework, Member States who meet a number of strict criteria can pool their resources and start military projects, with the possibility for non-participants to join them at a later stage. This novelty focuses mainly on the development of military capabilities, while operational decisions remain under the authority of Member States.

Once the technologies are developed, ownership is ceded to the participating member governments. The initiative’s primary objective is thus to establish a core group of countries in the field of defence who are willing and able to develop new capabilities and cooperate closely to this end. In a recent interview, Federica Mogherini, the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, also announced that she would present a proposal for non-EU countries to be able to join defence projects launched under the PeSCo umbrella.

Current and future projects

Today, all Member States except the UK, Denmark and Malta have joined the initiative, and the Council has formally adopted a total of 34 projects in 2018. For example, the Military Mobility project, also called “Military Schengen”, aims at simplifying and standardising cross-border military transport processes, which would facilitate movements of military forces across Europe.

To support medical capabilities, the European Medical Command will allow the participating Member States to pool their medical resources, harmonise their health standards and establish rapidly deployable medical teams. As far as training is concerned, a EU Training Mission Competence Centre (EU TMCC) will be created to increase “the availability, interoperability, specific skills and professionalism of personnel (trainers) for EU training missions across participating Member States.”  In order to counter cyber threats, an information-sharing platform will be developed, allowing Member States to share intelligence and strengthen their capabilities. Cyber Rapid Response Teams (CRRT’s) will also be formed to increase participating states’ resilience and allow them to respond collectively to cyber-attacks.

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Used strategically, PeSCo could become a major European integration tool in the field of defence. Through government-to-government cooperation on defence, Member States could manage to bring their capabilities up to NATO and EU standards and thus becoming better partners in those multilateral institutions. In turn, the capabilities developed could be used as a permanent multinational capacity that eliminates redundancy within the EU and becomes more readily available.

"New capabilities could be used as a permanent multinational capacity that eliminates redundancy within the EU"

A combination of pooling resources and specialization could lead to synergies and economies of scales, making national defence spending more efficient. This should also decrease the competition between different national industrial interests and lead to a less fragmented defence industry. PeSCo also contributes to experience-sharing amongst Member States, increasing their respective expertise. While it is true that states will lose some sovereignty as they will need the permission of others to use jointly built assets, they will collectively increase their capacity for action.

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In a context where Member States have difficulties to find consensus on many policy areas, the differentiated approach to integration that PeSCo provides seems like a promising solution. However, differentiated integration is often described as a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the exclusion of some Member States who do not meet the strict criteria could lead to further fragmentation of the continent and introduce a multi-speed Europe, leaving some states behind. On the other hand, it is becoming increasingly clear that integration cannot continue to be pursued through all-purposes solutions requiring the approval of every Member State, especially in a field as sensitive as defence.

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PeSCo provides a way to put an end to the trade-off between efficiency and participation. Used correctly, it could become an example to follow in other areas where further integration is needed. This structure should be endowed with a long-term strategy that aims to include non-participants and promote transparency. Only in this way can it ensure the legitimacy of the EU defence project. Because, as Mogherini recently stated in an interview, “when the benefits of cooperation and integration are clear, when the added value of our Union is self-evident, all EU member states focus on their common interest and move forward together.”

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