The potential creation of an EU army was undoubtedly a contentious issue in the run-up to the EU Referendum on 23rd June last year. Leave campaigners pointed to the dangers of integrating Britain’s armed forces into an EU military force, run by unelected bureaucrats in Brussels. Meanwhile, Remain campaigners denied there was any possibility of an EU army in the near future. In any case, it is clear a vote to Leave was a vote against the UK participating in defence programmes controlled by Brussels. However, recent documents suggest an EU army is indeed on the cards, and while Britain has declined to be a full participant, we may end up being closely affiliated with it, if clear assurances are not given to the contrary.
Since the Referendum, the EU’s ambitious intentions for defence integration, spearheaded by France and Germany, have been revealed. The European Defence Agency (EDA) has expanded its remit into strategy and policy. In May, the Military Planning and Conduct Capability (MPCC), a permanent EU military HQ, was signed off. In June, the European Defence Fund (EDF) was announced, to oversee greater collaboration between EU countries on defence spending. This fund, predicted to generate a total of €5.5bn (£4.9bn) by 2020, will be financed directly from Member States, and will pay for joint acquisition and development of strategic military and intelligence assets, placing Brussels at the heart of decision-making on matters of defence and security. It will consist of separate funds covering research and industry: the European Defence Research Programme (EDRP) and the European Defence Industrial Development Programme (EDIDP).
Associated with the EDIDP are rules to enhance the ever-increasing powers of the European Commission over national industries important for defence, in order to form a Single Market in Defence. This will endanger the ability of each nation to defend itself – another example of encroaching federalism and the undermining of national independence.
Closely connected to the above programmes is the latest initiative: Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), which EU Commissioners described as a “precursor to an EU military”. On Monday, 23 Member States signed up to PESCO; Britain, Denmark, Malta, Ireland and Portugal opted out. PESCO countries will combine resources to develop new weapons and undertake joint missions. The EU plans to initiate the programme as early as this December.
The overall aim is a Defence Union capable of undertaking peacekeeping missions, fighting terrorist organisations and temporarily replacing national police forces in times of crisis, hence undermining the sovereignty of national police and military forces, and side-lining NATO. This may be the wish of some European countries. Britain meanwhile resoundingly rejected the idea of putting our forces under EU control in the EU Referendum. So why has the UK Government been ambiguous about British participation in European defence programmes after we have left the EU?
David Davis’s Department for Exiting the European Union’s recent position paper on Defence suggests the Government is open to UK participation in the EDF, EDRP and EDIDP in the future. Reports suggest full participation in all three is likely. Furthermore, it seems likely the Government will not withdraw from the EDA. While Britain has rightly not signed up to be a core member of PESCO, its stated support for involvement in the EDF and other programmes leaves open the prospect of entanglement in PESCO as an affiliated party, as the projects are closely linked. For example, the EDA is an institutional pillar of PESCO.
Indeed, on Monday, the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, said Britain’s relationship to PESCO would be “like a buttress to support a cathedral.” Reuters reports that Britain may participate on an “exceptional basis” providing “funds and expertise”, while British defence companies, such as BAE Systems, are pushing for the closest possible relationship in order to take advantage of procurement opportunities. This is worrying, as close financial and industrial arrangements will further contribute to UK commitments, which we may later regret.
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Undeniably, close association with PESCO through the EDF, EDRP, EDIDP and EDA entails wide-ranging risks to our national independence, and could amount to a serious betrayal of the wishes of the Great British Public expressed in the Referendum. Involvement in these structures would result in the UK delegating authority on issues of our defence and industrial production of military resources to a Brussels-run decision-making process involving the EU and any non-EU participating countries, such as Norway. It may mean further UK payments into EU coffers after Brexit (via the EDF), and oversight from the European Court of Justice (via the EDIDP and Single Market regulations). Most importantly, it threatens the independence of the UK Armed Forces, leading to British troops being forced to operate under EU control.
A further significant danger is the undermining of the important and well-established role of NATO, with a shift in military decision-making power to Berlin and Brussels. American interest in the security of Europe via NATO is waning, as many European countries fail to meet their 2% of GDP spending target. An extensive EU Defence Union outside NATO structures could be the trigger to cause the US President, Donald Trump, to pull support for NATO, arguing it would be unfair to continue subsidising Europe via NATO while the Europeans are focusing on funding and support for a rival European Defence Union.
The complex nature of the EU’s defence integration plans means British involvement could be agreed to without the British people being fully aware. Maj-Gen Julian Thompson of Veterans for Britain characterises the defence relationship with the EU as “a labyrinth from which we must try to escape”. Therefore, it is vital the British Government declares the UK will play no future part in PESCO. The Government should also decline to participate in common EU programmes like the EDF, and instead operate as a key ally to the EU, but only on a case-by-case basis. Otherwise, Britain will be intertwined in the EU Defence Union via obligations on funding, Single Market regulations and procurement. We should not be a “buttress”, but a separate free-standing structure, with connections where it suits both parties. We did not vote to Get Britain Out of the EU to give up our independent defence policy.
Peter Lyon is a Research Executive at cross-party campaign group Get Britain Out