The UK government likes to pretend that EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) is harmless inter-government cooperation, which has no access to money, or legal sanctions, and is therefore a federalist paper tiger. These draft European Council Conclusions give the lie to that. Any Conservative prime minister should be wholly opposed to what these Conclusions so clearly intend. To sign the UK up to this programme is not just another step towards a Euro-Army, which has always been a dream of the federalist nations like Germany, but another blow to the UK’s already beleaguered defence industries, and another nail in the coffin of Nato, in order that Continental defence industries should not be exposed to US competition.
Much of these draft Council Conclusions appears to be just verbiage – the usual high-flown rhetoric about the EU being a “global player” in defence, and about the “strong commitment for the further development of a credible and effective Common Security and Defence Policy”. The understatement that “defence budgets in Europe are constrained” is a feeble attempt to mask the reality that member states, including the UK, are all cutting their defence budgets. The oft repeated plea to “make use of synergies” to improve capabilities has so far proved a forlorn hope, and the invocation of “increasing the effectiveness, visibility and impact of CSDP” is bound to fail. It is almost entirely down to France and the UK that “EU defence” means anything at all – and we work increasingly bilaterally, or they are a Nato operation under an EU flag. Nato remains far more significant, because it has US backing and SHAPE (Supreme Allied Headquarters Europe) where people are practised at planning and generating force for multinational operations. But Nato only gets its first mention as a “partner” in Paragraph 6, alongside the UN, OSCE and the African Union, as though they were equivalent. There is mention of “strategic partners and partner countries”, but it is telling that the EU cannot bring itself to name the USA, the military entity which dominates the world and which is the sole guarantor of European security. This underlines the squeamishness, futility, parochialism and vanity of CSDP.
However, the potential for to damage UK defence interests is in the detail. The call for “an EU Cyber Defence Policy Framework”, and for “an EU Maritime Security Strategy”, both involve the federalist EU Commission. Remember, the Commission is the EU’s most powerful legislative body, so this is anything but intergovernmental cooperation. Agreeing to this is to agree to a threat to the independence of UK policy in these fields. The fact that the Council will also call for “increased synergies between CSDP and Freedom/Security/Justice actors” opens the door to legally binding defence commitments “to tackle horizontal issues such as organized crime, including trafficking and smuggling of human beings, and terrorism” – another compelling reason for the UK to exercise its Lisbon Treaty opt-out from EU home and justice affairs entirely.
Finally, on “military capability development”, the EU intends utterly to eclipse Nato, backed by the two legally binding 2009 Defence Procurement Directives, which enhance the power of the European Defence Agency (EDA). This is becoming an embryo EU defence ministry. EDA’s statute enables decisions to be taken by majority voting, and where any single state can threaten a veto, a subset of member states can act unilaterally as a bloc in the name of the whole of the EU (so called “structure cooperation”).
However, EU Defence is not so much about defence, as protectionism of Continental defence industrial interests, whose technology rather lags behind their US counterparts. The Council proposes support for programmes on “Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems” (a squeamish name for “drones” or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV’s) to you and me), Air-to-Air refuelling, “Satellite Communication”, and Cyber. In at least two of these areas, air-to-air refuelling and cyber (ie. GCHQ in Cheltenham), the UK is already supreme in the EU, so why should we agree to the EU directing our policy? These are all capabilities where US interoperability is essential for the UK, but there is nothing about cooperation with our closest ally, because EU defence is about excluding the US wherever possible.
The Council “invites the Commission (again), the European Investment Bank and the European Defence Agency to develop proposals for a pooled acquisition mechanism”, which can only mean some kind of EU defence purchasing agency. It may not require much money to develop legal control over member states’ defence procurement programmes. How so? The proposals for “Strengthening Europe’s defence industry” are to be “in full compliance with EU law”. This is not inter-governmental. The Commission (again) is invited “to set up a Preparatory Action on CSDP-related research”. Finally, “The European Defence Agency, in cooperation with the Commission (yet again), will prepare a roadmap for the development of defence industrial standards” and “develop a harmonized European military certification approach”. This is the key means by which the EU can obtain control over defence. One of the key purposes of Nato was to ensure transatlantic standards and certification. Here there is a lack of any reference whatsoever to EU-US cooperation. This is because the EU wants standards and certification which will exclude US defence equipment from EU markets where ever possible. That’s what EU defence policy is really all about.
Bernard Jenkin is Conservative MP for Harwich and North Essex, Chairman of PASC, the Public Administration Select Committee and a former shadow defence secretary.