Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), the EU’s flagship initiative for defence, has achieved a deepening of cooperation across all military domains over the past six years, but the European Union still lacks critical capabilities and strategic enablers for modern warfare, senior EU officials said on Wednesday.
Spanish Defence Minister Margarita Robles, EU High Representative Josep Borrell and European Defence Agency Chief Executive Jiří Šedivý all called for new energy to be injected into the EU defence initiative that was launched by Member States in December 2017.
High Representative Borrell - who is also head of EDA - told the PESCO conference on 13 September, organised by the Spanish presidency of the Council, to use PESCO and not work in silos. "Cooperation among Member States is key to strengthening EU defence and the defence industry. On this, PESCO plays a key role in supporting the ambitions set in the Strategic Compass," he said.
PESCO was launched as the “cornerstone of European defence”, Spain’s Minister Robles recalled. Now the war in Ukraine and the critical situation in the Sahel region remind Europeans that the EU needs to preserve peace through solid armed forces, adequate investments and defence capabilities, she said.
Borrell praised the 68 collaborative projects, including the European Medical Command and the Cyber Rapid Response Teams that have reached full operational capacity (FOC) within PESCO. Twenty-two projects are slated to reach FOC in 2025.
Some of PESCO’s other achievements include headway in prototyping and testing unmanned systems as well as in designing a new class of military ship. PESCO helps Member States to develop new assets together. This helps save money, allows militaries to work closely together, and reinforces NATO for those who are allies. The framework has also received a boost as Denmark has joined as the 26th Member State.
The conference in Brussels, attended by some 150 representatives, is part of efforts to feed into a strategic review that will follow after the initiative’s initial phase between 2018 and 2025. EDA Chief Executive Jiří Šedivý said: “We should use this window of opportunity to set its next political objectives, with Member States driving the European capability development process."
He also said: "A bold and concrete PESCO strategic review will be a sound political signal towards our citizens, but also our partners or competitors: governments of EU Member States are politically willing to advance common security and defence."
PESCO has 20 legally binding commitments for Member States, which include increasing defence spending, as well as planning and developing defence capabilities together. For PESCO’s next stage after 2025, Member States can decide to review the commitments, as well as the number of projects. Performance indicators could also be introduced to measure PESCO progress, diplomats, military staff and officials heard at the conference.