The EU White Paper and EU Summit focus on defence as a moment to reflect on values in EU leadership

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The European Commission White Paper, which outlines possible scenarios for the future of the EU as it celebrates the 60th anniversary of the Rome Treaty.

When reading the European Commission White Paper, I was struck at how the discourse switches from reminding us of the initial peace project that the EU was built on to the sudden need to prepare for war by strengthening the EU’s defence institutions. In the paper, EU Commission President Juncker sets the tone by reminding us that: “60 years ago, Europe’s founding fathers chose to unite the continent with the force of the law rather than with armed forces”. The White Paper was developed in preparation for the Rome Summit celebrating the EU’s 60th anniversary and as a message to EU citizens on how to react in the face of Brexit and euroskepticism. It appears, however, that both the Rome Summit and the White Paper’s focus on the need for the EU to boost its security and defense institutions to regain cohesiveness and identity loose sight of long-term strategic vision and the degree of value leadership the EU so desparately needs at such a critical time.

Internally, EU institutional changes reflect this departure from the EU’s foundation as a system to ‘resolve conflicts around a table rather than in the battlefield’ (White Paper).

The European External Action Service announced the creation of PRISM (Prevention of Conflict, Rule of Law/Security Sector Reform, Stabilisation and Mediation – the Integrated Approach) at the end of last year. In fact PRISM is the merger of two civilian departments (CSDP.1 – Coordination and Support and SECPOL.2-Conflict prevention, peacebuilding and mediation), thus reducing capacity at that level. Soon after, the creation of the Military Planning and Conduct Capabilities (MPCC), responsible for the EU training missions in Somalia, Mali, CAR, was announced as a new department in the EEAS – EU Member States endorsed this unit at the summit in December 2016. There are rumours that this is the first step in the direction of an EU military headquarters in Brussels. In fact, EU defence ministers from all 28 member states agreed to measures to develop closer military defence cooperation, which included establishing a new EU defence HQ in Brussels.

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The European Defence Agency could be integrated into the EU’s common budget.

Discussions also recently took place at the European Parliament on the possibility that the European Defence Agency (EDA), previously external to the EU, be integrated into the EU and therefore use the EU common budget. At the same time and in response to US Administration’s allegation that it would reduce support to multilateral institutions, EU-NATO relations have been fortified through the July 2016 Joint Declaration and, in turn, NATO will be strengthened. Meanwhile european countries are boosting their own national armies as well such as Sweden reinstating its military service for its citizens. If the argument in favour of pooling funds towards an EU military headqarters is to reduce duplication, overcapacity and barriers to defence procurement currently resulting in annual waste of €26.4 billion ; then, aren’t three layers of military capacity (sovereign (national), regional (EU), trans-atlantic (NATO)) going to cause even higher numbers of waste ? As MEP Van Orden put it : “Given the range and intensity of security threats […] in the years ahead, the question should not be what roles can the EU invent for itself, but what are the best means of protecting our nation and their citizens.”

Externally, the European Parliament negotiations are moving forward on the issue of Capacity Building in Support for Security and Development (CBSD), potentially diverting development funds to ‘training and equipping’ partner countries’ armies. A pro-defense rapporteur was recently appointed, Arnaud Danjean, and a timeline for discussions at the Parliament has been decided upon with a plenary session scheduled for mid-September. The peacebuilding principle of security-development nexus is often invoked to justify this intiative yet, in reality, it will force the development and defense institutions compete with each other for funding rather than seeking to work together to achieve a balanced response.

When US President Trump takes radical decisions reducing funds to multilateral actors such as the UN that provide diplomacy, humanitarian relief, environmental protection and peacebuilding, EU citizens expect from their leaders that they do not respond in fear but stand up for the values that the EU was initially founded upon. What this means in practice is to ensure that its policies and funding address peacebuilding in the broader scheme, addressing root causes of violence and conflict. The solely military response and proliferation of arms will only just exacerbate extremism and violence as we have seen in the post-9/11 era.

The Future of Europe risks being short-sighted if it aims at creating jobs in the arms and defense industry. A long-term strategy for the Future of Europe would focus on creating jobs where EU citizens can contribute to improving life and laying the ground to long-term peace in and outside Europe. This would produce jobs in innovative education, environmental sustainability and social cohesion. The leadership that we can expect from EU heads should focus on ensuring that we implement the lessons we have learned over the years, such as establishing the security-development-human rights nexus through balanced funding, policies and institutional structures. Let us hope that going forward the focus on the ‘integrated approach’ will gear further discussions on the need to better balance prevention and responses to violence and conflict and that it won’t be too late to reverse the tide.

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