The majority of EU nations have committed to a joint defense cooperation, focusing on military operations and investments. Europe is looking to cement unity, especially since Brexit and the election of Donald Trump.
Defense and foreign ministers from 23 European Union countries signed up to a plan to establish the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), which will allow countries to cooperate more closely on security operations and building up military capability.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini described the signing of PESCO as a “historic moment in European defense.”
“This is the beginning of a common work – 23 member states engaging both on capabilities and on operational steps, that’s something big,” Mogherini said.
The decision to launch PESCO indicates Europe’s move towards self-sufficiency in defense matters instead of relying solely on NATO. The EU, however, also stressed that PESCO is complimentary to NATO, in which 22 of the EU’s 28 countries are members.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg welcomed the launch, saying that he saw it as an opportunity to “strengthen the European pillar within NATO.” Stoltenberg had previously urged European nations to increase their defense budget.
“I’m a firm believer of stronger European defense, so I welcome PESCO because I believe that it can strengthen European defense, which is good for Europe but also good for NATO,” Stoltenberg said.
Who is involved?
Under the scheme, EU member states will be able to develop greater military capabilities, invest in joint projects and increase the readiness of their troops.
Participation in PESCO is voluntary for all of the EU’s 28 member states
23 countries have signed up to the plan
Ireland, Portugal and Malta are still undecided whether or not to join
Denmark, which has a special opt-out status, is not expected to participate
The United Kingdom, which is scheduled to leave the EU in 2019, is not part of PESCO either but can still choose to take part in certain aspects even after Brexit – if that participation is of benefit to the entire EU.
Those who didn’t sign initially can still join at a later date and countries not living up to their expected commitments could be kicked out of the group.
With the notification signed, a final decision to launch the defense cooperation framework is expected in December.
The reaction from Germany
German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said it was important for Europe to stand on its own feet when it comes to security and defense – “especially after the election of the US President,” referring to President Donald Trump’s dismissive attitude towards NATO.
“If there is a crisis in our neighborhood, we have to be able to act,” she said.
German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel meanwhile also lauded the agreement as “a great step toward self-sufficiency and strengthening the European Union’s security and defense policy – really a milestone in European development.”
Gabriel said that working together under the framework of PESCO was “more economical than if everyone does the same. I think that European cooperation on defense questions will rather contribute to saving money – we have about 50 percent of the United States’ defense spending in Europe, but only 15 percent of the efficiency.”