Blog: A European Defence Union requires democratic oversight

Defence

 

The EU risks becoming less relevant as a global player. Fragmentation and an inward focus, while the EU´s neighborhood is on fire, are reasons for serious concern. Intensified defense cooperation among European states is indispensable if Europe wants to play its proper role as a security provider and protector of human rights on the global stage. Its traditional preference for leveraging soft power can only be credibly implemented if it is backed up by hard power as a measure of last resort. Yet European member states refuse to practice what they preach: in reality budgets for defense have been cut, and cooperation has not developed in a way that has avoided irresponsible capacity gaps. For instance, the lack of operational EU’s crisis responsibility mechanisms became painfully clear when the European External Action Service’s Crisis Platform was not convened after the downing of flight MH17.

Supporting increased defense cooperation does not mean giving a blank cheque to the executive and the military. Military initiatives should always be accompanied by clear goals, legal frameworks and oversight procedures. This message, which I have made several times in the past, has become the focus of public attention again this week.

Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, reinforced his earlier idea for the creation of a ‘European Army’ in an interview on Sunday. While the mere mentioning of the concept of such an army was controversial during the European elections, Russia´s aggression has changed the tone of the debate. “A common European army would convey a clear message to Russia that we are serious about defending our European values”, says Juncker. And although the credibility of the European Union’s foreign policy should be the result of its coherence, rather than depend on the existence of an army, Juncker has a point. The Lisbon Treaty demands that Europe strengthens its common security and defence activities. A more comprehensive approach is needed in today’s world.

Today Javier Solana is in Brussels to present a report proposing the establishment of a ‘European Defence Union’ (EDU) that could be spearheaded by a group of like-minded EU countries. Once again this report demonstrates the practical and financial benefits of further integration of European defence capabilities. We need measures that further develop pooled procurement initiatives and shared defence planning. However, two accompanying measures must complete this process.

To further advance European cooperation, democratic oversight is essential. Therefore, a greater European strategic convergence on military matters requires an enhanced role for the European Parliament. The EP Subcommittee on Security and Defense should be upgraded to a fully-fledged Committee with access to all relevant information in order to guarantee the balance of powers that are fundamental in any democracy. Such a new role would also require a strengthened cooperation with national parliaments, which play a key role in deciding on committing troops and engaging in military operations.

Secondly, we need to have clear answers to a number of crucial questions before starting any new initiative, such as the EDU. Given the changing nature of conflict, pooled procurement might involve the development of ‘cyber’ defense weapons. Although all things ‘cyber’ are hotly debated topics, the generality of this concept means that it is meaningless without proper definitions. What exactly constitutes a ‘cyber-attack’? What is the difference between offensive and defensive ‘cyber’-capabilities? How does the law of war apply in a hyper connected environment? And how do we deal with traditional concepts like attribution, responsibility and proportionality? In these relatively new fields we ought to get it right from the start. The world doesn’t need a cyber-arms race. A coherent EU foreign security and defense policy also requires us to stop the trade in digital arms. The unregulated trade in surveillance and intrusion systems undermines the EU’s strategic position – and human rights of people in third countries. The Commission should therefore come forward with a proposal for revision of the dual-use export regulation as soon as possible.

Last but not least, a European Defense Union should go hand in hand with a more common political agenda on the global stage. A fragmented Europe is a weak Europe, and more efforts are needed by Member States to choose to stand strong together.

Today´s proposals from the task force led by Solana and advised by De Hoop Scheffer should be embraced by political leaders. The changes in the EU´s neighborhood have led to new threats, precisely at the time when defense budgets are cut in nearly every Member state. Cooperation is not only needed to leverage our position, but also because it simply delivers a bigger ´bang for our buck´.

 

 

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