Written by: Emily Janicik
With confusion and uncertainty clouding the future of the European Union after Brexit and increasing terrorist attacks, conflicting signs of the EU strengthening have emerged. On Nov. 13th 2017, 23 out of the 28 member countries agreed to merge military funding, specifically for equipment, research, and development. The agreement, known as Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), is considered a “historic achievement for European defense.”
The main proposal of PESCO is the reduction of waste and replication of research between member states. Through these operations, joint operations with NATO will become more efficient and effective, through European strength. During negotiations, France favored a smaller group of “elite” nations leading the initiative, while German preferred to include all member nations to foster cooperation. In the end Germany prevailed, with only the UK, Ireland, Denmark, Portugal, and Malta sitting out.
While outsiders see PESCO as a sign of strength, it comes at a time of tension in the EU. The bill addresses the EU’s failure to defend Crimea from Russia in 2014, and Russia’s rising militarization. Brexit also rattled the EU, due to the UK being a great military power in Europe. Currently, increasing attacks from Islamic terrorists are causing more tension between governments, which shows why cooperation is more important than ever.
The EU has a longstanding alliance with NATO and the UK for military strength, but they are now breaking that norm. Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany made remarks that alluded to the necessity of the EU becoming self sufficient, due to President Trump’s distaste for NATO. The President has also issued harsh statements against European dependency on the US military. Most recently in Belgium, US soldiers had to give the Belgian military “hand-me-down flak jackets” in reaction to terrorist attacks. PESCO attempts to fix this through becoming stronger as the European Union by addressing gaps in military plans between member states.
Similarly, the UK has been skeptical of joint military operations since their induction in the EU. Post Brexit, they have less reason to help bolster a costly program, which could interfere with their sovereignty. The possibility of moving towards an “European Army” is unimaginable for the British, sealing their disproval of the bill, though there are no signs of a joint army forming.
Looking towards the future, cooperation is the best path towards stable peace for the EU. With shared resources, the EU can elevate their military strength in the international community, signaling to the UK and US that they do not need help. Through military cooperation, tensions in the European Union should decrease, as seen in the past with economic integration. PESCO will hopefully increase cooperation between member states, making Europe a safer place to live for all.