The Guest Blog

Guest post by MEP Alfred Sant, Head of Maltese (S&D) Delegation in the European Parliament


This afternoon the European Parliament’s plenary session, once again, will host a joint debate on the European Foreign Security and Defence Policy. This time the High Representative and Commission Vice President Mogherini will participate in the debate by welcoming the recently ratified Permanent Structured Cooperation (so called PESCO) and outlining how this will open a new chapter in the European Security and Defence Policy.

In my opinion, it seems attractive at a time when the EU apparently needs new policy frontiers on which it can show growth and cohesion, to claim that moving towards a common security and defence policy makes sense. So the Commission is proceeding with plans to create funds for coordinating the procurement of armaments and to finance research and development for defence on a pan-European basis.

Prodded by France and Germany, coordination and pooling of defence initiatives are being discussed for medium-term implementation, with a number of policy options being explored. Given the still significant terrorist threat, problems of internal security are increasingly seen as interrelated with defence issues. Both security and defence should be dealt with on a European basis, that is the call.

In the past, the British were adamant in opposing this approach, claiming it would disrupt Nato. Their departure from the EU means it will be easier to move forward on security and defence under Franco-German “guidance”.

However, attractive as this approach may appear, it could become counter-productive. As has happened in other policy areas, two unfortunate consequences could follow.

First, in order to establish agreement between all participants, compromises will have to be reached.

Frequently in such a context, policy formulations lack effective scope and tools that make them operative across the board in a coherent manner. We have seen this in the past for the Eurozone as well as for Schengen and immigration policies.

Secondly, the approach is likely to establish an inner core of countries adopting the policy, and an outer group of non-participants. In the medium term, this is a recipe for another circle of divergence and suspicions between EU Members which are in the policy loop and others outside it. Those who argue that such an outcome must be prevented do not provide a solution. Meanwhile, proposals on the table or in the pipeline can only cohere if they satisfy certain basic essentials.

Most importantly, there must be a good, overarching definition of the common pan-European purpose and interests that the security and defence policy will relate to. But it is difficult to find such a vision in what has been presented up to now. The perceived need to counter President Trump’s America-the-great stance is not enough.

Nor is it sufficient to argue that as experience has shown, soft power by itself cannot ensure the safeguarding of EU interests. Surely, that statement does not justify the added claim that we therefore need hard power as an EU competence.

For one has to ask whether soft power has been a failure because there was an overreach in its deployment, such as in the Ukraine or during the Arab spring. That consideration cannot be brushed aside.

Indeed, before a common security and defence policy can make real operational sense, it has to be woven into a statement that defines which EU interests – including their nature and extent– it will be there to safeguard.

I have heard representatives of Member States, in the north and the south declare that a European defence and security policy would help their country shape up better in confrontation with neighbours.

If this were going to be the case, the danger would be that participation in the common policy is defined by a narrowly perceived national interest.

To the contrary, participation should follow from acceptance of a clear, joint definition of interests, in security and defence that are common to the EU even to non-participant states in the policy. There should be nothing vague or open to different interpretations in such a definition. Certainly, the glue for a common security and defence policy cannot be that Europe’s military-industrial complex would welcome its introduction.

One understands that this complex needs a harmonised, continental market in military hard and software in order to achieve economies of scale in R&D and the development of new tools for warfare. But this aim can be achieved through a different approach.

Similarly, it is difficult to follow or accept the argument frequently made about how internal and external security can no longer be separated from each other.

Internal security on a European basis, as the ongoing terrorist attacks show, are actually requiring new tools of surveillance, cooperation and counter-terrorism measures. In this area, the establishment of a common security policy would be most urgent and most valuable for all. Mostly, the threat has come from EU nationals, linked to external, non-state structures. A problem has been that the Schengen area lacks the equivalent of a European FBI.

Moreover, beyond a clear statement of the common interests that an EU security and defence policy will require, one would also need a common military doctrine defining how threats are to be predicted, identified, contexted and met. Such a doctrine – which is still not in sight– would need to carry indications regarding the military assets to be committed and pooled (if any); their deployment at the right moment according to the levels of threat; the command structure; and the setting of strategic aims.

In this approach, the situation with regard to Nato arrangements would have to be taken fully into account. Obviously all this would require prior political discussion and negotiation, which would be quite complex – probably divisive – given the diversity of national aims and perceptions.

All matters at issue, are likely to raise great controversies and division among core constituencies of European political parties on both left and right.

Curiously, current discussions about a common security and defence policy seem to take minimal note of the position of Member States who follow a policy of neutrality and this not least with particular reference to Malta, which as a neutral country, is specifically barred by its Constitution from participating in the programmes of a military alliance and in international cooperative efforts promoting warfare capabilities and exercises, unless backed by the UN. How will they fit into a common security and defence structure if they decide to join it, and outside it, if not?

All things considered, it is odd that in developing a common European security and defence approach the clearest way for- ward has apparently been side- lined, namely that of only devising a new common EU structure for internal security.

The threats in this area have become overriding, especially by way of terrorism but not only. Developing new and effective common policies on this front would almost automatically draw wide popular support, across Europe. The statement that internal and external security and defence are the two sides of the same coin is indeed flawed.



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