The establishment of Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) in late 2017 was a milestone in the EU’s efforts to boost security and defence capabilities as well as operational capacity.
Unlike other forms of cooperative arrangements, PESCO calls for 20 binding commitments for the 25 participating EU Member States. A substantial amount of political capital was expended to ensure wide participation and to identify an initial set of 17 projects adopted in March 2018. The launch of PESCO, combined with the introduction of other tools such as the Coordinated Annual Review on Defence (CARD), raises expectations for quick and substantial gains in the EU’s security and defence arena. These expectations should probably be tempered, as PESCO will need time to fully mature and produce tangible results. As PESCO goes forward, at least four issues will require continued attention to ensure it reaches its full potential in the coming years.
Synchronisation with CARD and EDF
First, it is important to remember that PESCO represents just one piece within a larger security and defence puzzle. It is still evolving and needs to be synchronised with the CARD process as well as the European Defence Fund (EDF) launched in mid-2017. There is already an implicit understanding that the Coordinated Annual Review on Defence – which among others aims to support EU Member States’ efforts to foster capability development addressing shortfalls – could serve as a basis for identifying future PESCO projects. Likewise, the European Defence Fund could support projects financially, making their completion more likely. The challenge is that these and other tools and instruments are maturing at different rates. The CARD process will not be fully implemented until 2019. The EDF will not reach full funding levels until after 2020. As a result, the full extent of these benefits will not be visible till after 2020. Other developments in 2019, such as the ongoing Brexit process, European Parliamentary elections, and the end of the current European Commission’s mandate are likely to impact progress from now on until the end of 2019.
Common vision on future threats
Second, and related to the first point, there is still room to strengthen the ‘joint vision’ among EU policymakers and planners, especially concerning emerging security challenges and their implications for EU capability development.
Formally enhancing such reflections should help answering questions such as “what future security challenges confront the EU?” and “what are the security implications of emerging trends, and how do they affect EU capabilities needs or operational requirements?”
It may also help guide ongoing processes, such as the formulation of general conditions under which third states could be invited to participate in individual PESCO projects.
Indeed such reflections, which to some extent are already contained in the Capability Development Plan (currently under review), should serve as the preliminary step or basis for the Coordinated Annual Review on Defence that primarily focuses on the monitoring of national defence spending plans to help identify new collaborative initiatives. Presently, there is clarity on strategic priorities – e.g. via the EU Global Strategy and the Implementation Plan on Security and Defence, also as written in the Council Conclusions on 14 November 2016.
There are also shared views on capability requirements, for example as expressed in the Capability Development Plan, the Headline Goals, and the Long-Term Vision. There is, however, limited coherence across these different guideposts to extract a common vision on how evolving external threats and challenges will affect future EU security and defence postures. Greater clarity in this area could promote a more proactive PESCO, including one that helps the EU address future operational needs.
This is particularly relevant as PESCO also includes an operation-oriented focus, a domain that is currently on the backburner to give priority to capability development.