The European Parliament opens the way for a defense commissioner and pushes states to find €76 bn for weapons

Flickr/Fischer Maximilian
European Defence Agency, Black Blade 2016

The European Parliament will adopt next week in Strasbourg a resolution asking for a radical bureaucratic boost on defence matters. The draft resolution “on the implementation of the Common Security and Defence Policy” that has already been approved by the Committee on Foreign Affairs (voted by EPP, Liberals/ALDE and Social Democrats), is a major step towards further militarisation. It follows up on rapid developments since the beginning of the year.  

Most importantly: For the first time ever, the resolution makes the case for the creation of a Commission Directorate General (DG)-Defence to administer all relative instruments and agencies implicated in defence policy making.

Although the text refrains from proposing a defence commissioner, this will be the realistic outcome of such a proposal.  DGs are led by Commissioners who are comparable to ministers at national level. The resolution  also requests establishing  a “fully fledged defence budget” under the next Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF – EU 2021-2027 budget). That  would give autonomy to the aforementioned new-born political structure over planning on military research and development policy. It will potentially also carry a mandate to oversee capacity building through the joined procurement of equipment under the approved new Defence Fund.

Minority opinion: “The report presses for a Military Union”

The resolution also complements the call for an overhaul of defence policy making apparatus asking for the upgrade of Security and Defence (SEDE) European Parliament sub-committee to full committee status. A request for a permanent Defence European Council format doesn’t appear on this resolution, although it is an idea adopted in similar reports last year.

minority opinion from leftist MEPs attached to the resolution has dismissed the reform saying that the proposal won’t really benefit the EU. “The report presses for a Military Union with strong capabilities, supports the European Defence Fund, Defence research and the Defence Industrial Development Programme which benefits the profits of EU defence industries and the military-industrial complex”

The report also makes an explicit call to EU Member States “to commit themselves to a common and autonomous European defence, and to aim to ensure that their national defence budgets amount to at least 2% of their respective GDPs within a decade”. Currently the gap between what Member States spend and the 2% is estimated by NATO to be about 76 billion euros (European NATO members only).

Forty-four billions for a five year EU security and military budget

This would come on top of an already planned massive arms build-up through three channels: a preparatory action plan of about €90 m already implemented for 2017-2020; the novel military research and development program of €500 m per year to run  2019-2020; plus the military capacity building program under the revised Instrument for Stability and Peace (IcSP) of around 100 million for the period 2018-2020.

From 2021 onwards the Commission wants, under the new Multiannual Financial Framework, to spend 500 million per year on defence research. It also plans a procurement budget line for the new European Defence Fund, rubber-stamped by the Council last summer. The purpose of this budget line is to leverage national financing with an expected multiplying effect of 5. It could therefore generate a total investment in defence capability development of €5 billionper year (after 2021).

Additional funds for procurement and other purposes might come from other sources, such as structural and regional funds like the Internal Security Fund. For a five years EU budget (2021-2027), the entire amount directed to security and military purposes could amount, according to modest estimates, to about 44 billion euro.

A rapporteur who is also the head of a security and defense lobby group 

The rapporteur of the Annual Report on the implementation of EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) this year is German MEP Michael Gahler, an ever present figure in the fora promoting EU militarisation. For years he has been pushing hard for a pilot project on defence to pave the way. He was also member of Commissioner for Industry Elżbieta Bienkowska’s so-called Group of Personalities. The group published a report in February 2016 that kick-started the undergoing process. 

Furthermore, Gahler is the president of an informal pressure group within the European Parliament called Kangaroo. Essentially a lobby group, it has been instrumental in promoting security and defence imperatives in the EU institutions for decades.

Last year CSDP’s Annual Report rapporteur was Ioan Mircea Pascu, also vice-chairman of the Kangaroo Group, and ex-Romanian Defence Minister, also implicated in the 2003-2005 CIA renditions scandal.

The conservatives (EPP group) and the social democrats (S&D group) habitually take turns in drafting the annual CSDP reports. This excludes  other parliamentary groups that raise concerns about the pace and the scope of EU securitisation.

The parliamentary resolution is another push on the already accentuated militarisation frenzy that has evolved since late 2016. It has already resulted in the creation of institutions to promote research and procurement. It has also led to the  creation of Permanent Structured Co-operation (PESCO), an instrument that will help Member States pool resources, put forward joint procurement projects, and deploy armed forces, named EU Battlegroups, in CSDP missions.

At a Berlin press conference yesterday German Chancellor Angela Merkel made clearthat defence is set to become a priority for the EU: “The (EU‘s) ability to act should be at the forefront now so I will concentrate on more cooperation in defence by 2025 and on other issues,” including employment and innovation.

* Apostolis Fotiadis is a journalist based in Athens. He covers issues related to border control and population movements as well as the impact of organized interests on EU policy developments. He collaborated with Investigate Europe in our first investigation on Europe’s dysfunctional border regime.