Safety in numbers

European defence cooperation through PESCO is becoming increasingly better integrated and is adapting to the changing demands and threats it is likely to face in the future. Martin Banks reports.
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By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

11 Dec 2019

EU ministers have approved 13 new military and defence projects under their PESCO (Permanent Structured Cooperation) defence scheme, a flagship EU military initiative.

Five of these focus on training, covering areas such as cyber, diving, tactical and medical, as well as chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defence (CBRND) training. Others will enhance EU collaborative actions on capability development at sea, air and space.

The announcement, on 12 November, brings the number of projects that are currently in place to 47. The eventual aim is to develop and deploy forces together, backed by a multi-billion-euro fund for research and development.


German EPP MEP David McAllister, chair of Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, said, “Even although security and defence matters remain largely with Member States, the EU is important in coordinating defence policies with EU partners and NATO. With the Council’s decision to adopt these 13 further projects, the EU Member States involved are showing their commitment to making European security and defence policies more coherent and effective.”

He added, “The new projects will focus on training, enhancing EU collaborative actions and on capability developments. This is the right response to today’s challenges, such as the borderless nature of security threats, the current fragmentation of defence markets, the lack of interoperability and poor cost-effectiveness. The existing PESCO projects ensure more efficient use of resources and better coordinated national eff orts.”

The Brussels-based European Defence Agency (EDA) has been chosen to support a PESCO project for the first time - the Austrian-led CBRN Surveillance as a Service (CBRN SaaS).

“This is the right response to today’s challenges, such as the borderless nature of security threats, the current fragmentation of defence markets, the lack of interoperability and poor cost-effectiveness”

An EDA spokesman said, “This third wave of PESCO projects saw Member States bring forward solid defence capability projects. However, if PESCO is to have a lasting, even structural impact on the European defence capability landscape, it is important to start embedding the EU perspective of the 20 PESCO commitments in national defence planning processes.”

Further reaction came from Jamie Shea, former NATO spokesman and Senior Fellow at Friends of Europe, a leading think tank. He told The Parliament Magazine, “Although 13 is usually an unlucky number, these 13 extra PESCO projects are good news at a time when President Macron is calling for the EU to step up its defence eff orts and stand on its own feet. PESCO is gaining traction in EU capitals and nations are buying in to the long-overdue need to pool and share. I particularly welcome the focus on CBRN defence in the new package.”

“The Novichok attack in Salisbury last year demonstrated the potency of this threat; the EU needs more trained personnel and better detection capabilities. These projects show that nations are waking up to this threat.”

Former UK Europe Minister Denis MacShane noted, “British policy makers, like the chief of general staff General Sir Nick Carter, like to claim that EU defence and security is not moving ahead.”

“Yet this intensification of PESCO projects, with 47 defence and security cooperation projects now up and running under the aegis of the EU, show this is not the case. Brexit Britain hopes to get some crumbs from Trump’s defence table, but he adds “deceitful” and “duplicitous” in front of “partner and ally” so Britain’s isolation from key geo-political decisions, from the UK’s Brexit posture, continues.”

Elsewhere, defence expert Paul Taylor said, “At first sight, the new projects look mostly modest and sensible, NATO-compatible enhancements. They tackle niche requirements that are more specific than some of the more comprehensive initial projects such as military mobility - a vast undertaking. The TWISTER project addresses the widely-recognised vulnerability of Western space assets to attack, blinding or disabling, as highlighted by Chinese space surveillance and anti-satellite tests.”

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