European Union member states are poised to sign a defence pact today in an effort to unify the bloc after the Brexit vote and reduce Europe’s dependency on the US military.
Led by France and Germany, the so-called permanent structured co-operation on defence (Pesco) will see 22 EU member signatories pool their military resources, including crisis response troops while co-operating to develop weapons.
Pesco follows wide-ranging spending cuts to defence across Europe, leaving the continent’s military forces unable to provide vital assistance.
Over the last two decades when conflict broke out in the Balkans, Libya and Africa, for example, European defence support fell short.
Europe’s unwillingness to act in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 attracted widespread international criticism.
A senior EU official said that the current EU defence integration plans have already made significant progress, however.
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The last major attempt to create a European defence pact in the 1950s, spearheaded by France’s prime minister at the time René Pleven, failed.
The agreement was signed in 1952 to harness Europe’s military potential in case of conflict with the Soviet bloc, but never came into effect.
The UK, which only approved Pleven’s plan in principle, has always been reluctant to sign a joint European defence agreement, stemming from concerns about the creation of an EU army.
Will Pesco work?
The election of a pro-European centrist Emmanuel Macron as France’s president has helped to push Pesco forward, given that he is a strong proponent of EU integration.
Pressure from US President Donald Trump who has urged European countries to pay more into their defence budgets has also added to the project’s momentum, Reuters reported.
However, France and Germany appear to have different ideas over what Pesco should aim to achieve.
Paris originally wants the initiative to encompass a vast array of projects, while Berlin wants to focus on ensuring that as many countries as possible sign up to it.
Aside from Denmark, which has opted out of all EU defence plans, only Austria, Poland, Ireland and Malta have yet to decide whether or not to join Pesco.
How about UK involvement?
While London is not part of Pesco, British officials have made it clear that the UK is keen to cooperate with the EU on defence after 2019.
Britain may be able to participate, but only if it provides substantial funds and brings expertise to the table, according to EU officials.
EU foreign and defence ministers are expected to sign the pact this morning in Brussels.
A multi-billion-euro EU funding package for Pesco is still under consideration.