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PESCO Offers Europe’s Strongest Commitment to Enhance Defence Cooperation

Feb 28, 2019
Rachael Bryson Rachael Bryson
Senior Research Associate,
National Security and Public Safety
Brent DowDall
Senior Manager, Research and Business Development
Forecasting and Analysis

Canada and the European Union share a commitment to international peace and security. Participation by Canada and many European states in collective defence institutions (such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), celebrating its 70th anniversary later this year) has long been one means by which this goal has been advanced. At the same time, both Canada and the EU have a responsibility to maintain and enhance their own levels of preparation and readiness.

Concerns about the state of readiness of the transatlantic Alliance extend back to the end of the Cold War. These concerns predate the positions expressed by the Trump Adminstration, the impeding exit of the United Kingdom from the EU, and concerns about destabilizing Russian activities. Within Europe, however, cooperative defence has long been discussed as an approach to maximize regional security and defence capabilities.

The European Union has taken its most comprehensive step to date to shore up its shared defence responsibilities through the establishment of the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO). PESCO is a specific Common Security and Defence Policy flexibility mechanism that flows out of the Treaty of Lisbon. PESCO took effect in 2017, with the participation of 25 of 28 EU member states.

PESCO is organized to allow member states to make binding commitments to increase defence cooperation across a broad range of security areas. The framework for cooperation allows willing and able member states to jointly develop defence capabilities, invest in shared projects, and enhance the operational readiness and contribution of their armed forces.

It is important to emphasize that PESCO is not a European armed force. PESCO is intended to enhance cooperation among like-minded countries. Member states still have full authority to make decisions about their own defence levels, policies, and approaches. Member states contribute voluntarily to the initiatives of greatest concern to them.

The advantage of PESCO is that it builds on existing relationships, creating a ready-made mechanism for increased cooperation on individual projects. To date, 34 projects have been approved across certain areas. These include training; capability development; operational readiness on land, at sea, and in the air; and cyber-defence.

However, as the leaders of the entities who jointly make up the PESCO Secretariat emphasized in 2018, and as argued by PESCO leaders in 2018, it will take more than the launch of projects for PESCO to fulfill its mandate.1 They argued that PESCO must achieve four objectives:

1. Respect of commitments: PESCO differs from previous defence cooperation initiatives because the 25 participating member states have made binding commitments.

2. Delivering on capability and operational gaps: Through PESCO, EU forces will more effectively and efficiently operate together to achieve tactical, operational, and strategic objectives.

3. Coherence with other EU initiatives: PESCO needs to be intertwined and coherent with other recent EU initiatives launched to boost defence cooperation—especially the Coordinated Annual Review on Defence and the European Defence Fund.

4. Complementarity with NATO: Enhancing the defence capabilities of EU member states will strengthen the European pillar within NATO.

It is this final objective that can be expected to be of greatest interest to Canada. Accordingly, PESCO will be the issue of focus at the 5th Security and Defence Symposium on March 20, 2019. The Conference Board of Canada is supporting the Delegation of the European Union to Canada in developing this programme. Two of the leaders in implementing PESCO—Lt. General Esa Pulkinen, and Jorge Domecq, Chief Executive of the European Defence Agency—will be speaking at the symposium. In addition, a panel of experts will discussthe multi-faceted defence and security relationship among Canada and the EU, and how PESCO will influence future NATO cooperation.

Those of you interested in the next stage of Europe’s defence and security policy should join us on March 20 at the Rideau Club in Ottawa.

1    PESCO: “More Than Just Projects,” European Defence Matters, Issue 15. Authored by Pedro Serrano, Deputy Secretary General for CSDP, and Crisis Response at the European External Action Service (EEAS); Lt. General Esa Pulkkinen, Director General of the EU’s Military Staff (EUMS); and Jorge Domecq, the Chief Executive of the European Defence Agency (EDA) whose entities jointly form the PESCO Secretariat.


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