According to many analysts, Permanent Structured Co-operation (PESCO) – the most important novelty of the Treaty of Lisbon in the field of military affairs – has not yet been created, because the European Union’s Member States have been unable to agree on the details. Self-evidently, PESCO has therefore failed to develop through the framework of the European Union. But it has begun to emerge elsewhere, albeit in a bilateral form: it is called the British-French security treaties.
The original idea for PESCO was a ‘military Eurozone’, to be constituted by a core group of European states possessing the most advanced armed forces and spending proportionately the most on defence. During the early 2000s, even United Kingdom and France supported this policy. They hoped that this initiative could bring more capabilities to the table by establishing higher standards for participation in the mechanism, which could have pressed other Member States to develop their armed forces more intensively. However, it seems that London and Paris have become less interested in the creation of deeper military co-operation through the European Union’s framework over the past five years, and have done it instead bilaterally.
Over the years, PESCOS’s exclusiveness has eroded and many disagreements have emerged concerning its implementation. Many argued that the original interpretation of a ‘military Eurozone’ would be divisive and would lead to different speeds of modernisation in Europe in the field of military policy. Nevertheless, other issues – like the role of European Defence Agency, the criteria of participation in the mechanism, and whether PESCO should be one overarching framework or several ‘issue PESCOs’ – were also discussed in many expert and high level meetings during 2010, but these negotiations could not foster a consensus regarding the implementation of PESCO.
In the meantime, London and Paris signed the British-French security treaties in November 2010 and began to implement many of the military capability development issues contained in PESCO’s Protocol in the Treaty of Lisbon on a bilateral basis, such as the creation of multinational forces; harmonisation of their military needs by pooling and specialising capabilities; by co-operation on training and logistics; enhancing their forces’ interoperability and deployability, and so on. London and Paris also agreed on the development of a new Combined Joint Expeditionary Force and the sharing of aircraft carriers. They also intend to co-operate on training and support of A400M military transport aircraft; joint development of technologies regarding submarine systems; aligning plans in maritime mine counter-measures to enhance interoperability; military satellite communications and the possible French use of British spare capacities in the field of air-to-air refuelling. Furthermore, they agreed to work together on a new equipment programme of unmanned air systems, as well as a more efficient defence industry. All of these agreements fit fully to the concept of PESCO as envisaged by the Treaty of Lisbon except one major issue: the British-French co-operation does not use the European Union framework, including the European Defence Agency.
It goes without saying that British-French military co-operation is not the same as the wider co-operation foreseen in the Treaty of Lisbon – not least because it establishes the ‘military Eurozone’ outside the European Union. This disturbs many. For example, Remo Pertica, the chairman of the Italian Defence Manufacturers’ Association, recently said that ‘everyone is worried that the Anglo-French deal will lead to a two-tier Europe.’ In view of the fact that Britain and France account for roughly half of all European spending on military procurement and around three-quarters of all spending on military research and development, they clearly exist in a league of their own.
Because of their military power, Britain and France can easily determine the future of military capability development in the European continent. Unfortunately, this also means that the two countries will remain uninterested in the creation of a mechanism in the European Union like PESCO, because they are now in a position where they can easily preserve their autonomy and other actors will be forced to accommodate their requirements. Namely, a two-speed Europe is going to be institutionalised on the field of military affairs, where the British-French ‘Euro-core’ will take the lead, and others will join only if London and Paris want it.
However, this is not necessarily problematic, and could even be beneficial. Unconstrained by a gaggle of competing interests, London and Paris may be able to decide what needs to be done militarily more freely. In addition, they could also make speedier decisions about which future partners should be consulted (perhaps based on what those partners can bring to the table), including when and under which conditions such partners should join them. They have already shown that they are willing to do this. For instance, in early January 2012, the French Defence Minister, Gérard Longuet, said – regarding co-operation on unmanned aircraft – that ‘we’ll probably have an Anglo-French project which cannot avoid opening to other European partners.’
Accordingly, a ‘military Eurozone’ has been created by Britain and France, bypassing the European structures. If British-French military co-operation is successful, it would certainly become a positive example to other Europeans, which could boost other ‘islands of co-operation’ (such as between the Baltic-Nordic states and the countries of Central Europe), while accelerating European military collaboration elsewhere. Thus, in the long-term, the ‘British-French PESCO’ has the potential to become the catalyst of – and even the framework for – a wider and deeper level of European military co-operation.