Junior defence minister’s letter reveals inadequate Foreign Office advice

Re. The letter from Lord Howe on PESCO and wider EU Defence Union structures

A correction and response to his words. The minister had received inadequate advice from the Foreign Office which put the UK into pillars of the EU’s Defence Union SINCE the 2016 Brexit referendum. The Foreign Office’s Euro-Atlantic Security Policy Unit and Minister of State Alan Duncan have overseen a drive to place these pillars into future UK Government planning and the proposed Exit Deal. The details have had scarce scrutiny from MPs and even then with inadequate advice. None of the new structures has been approved by a Parliamentary vote. The EASP’s lead officer, a former diplomat, previously worked for five years at the EU Commission.

Many of the Lord Howe’s words in the letter below reflect previous letters written by the EASP unit.

  1. ‘Political Declaration …including defence and security, that is in our national interest.’

It cannot be in the national interest to keep the UK in growing schemes under EU authority. Ministers joined these schemes on the basis that the UK would be out and unaffected. Now that Government policy has changed towards keeping the UK attached in this area, ministers have not explained that the defence arrangements increase EU control over defence policy, rules, industry and budgets.

 

  1. ‘The future relationship will be further negotiated during the implementation period’.

This is misleading because concerns about a loss of control cannot be mitigated by further negotiation. The EU has said obligations for participating states cannot be relaxed.

 

  1. ‘The UK-EU future security partnership will allow us to work with the EU on operations and capability development’

The proposed partnership involves a heavy policy obligation for the UK. It is misleading to have omitted this detail. It is incorrect to claim that joint operations and capability development can only be done on EU terms.

 

  1. ‘Much of the content of the articles you attach to your email reflects recent inaccurate reporting’

The articles all used direct evidence from EU Commission, European Defence Agency and Cabinet Office. They were accurate.

 

  1. ‘PESCO is intended to help EU member states develop the military capabilities they need to respond to the range of threats Europe faces’

It is misleading to omit any mention of ‘joint’, ‘common’ or ‘combined’ from a description of PESCO’s format and objectives. PESCO is an agreement to pursue structural integration at a political level where member states commit to a set of politically-binding ‘Common Commitments’, including participation rules and joint functions. Capability development processes beyond the level of industrial development. Therefore, it is not simply a platform for the joint development of military hardware.

 

  1. ‘The UK has supported the launch of PESCO’

Although ministers have supported PESCO, they did so in breach of UK Parliamentary codes.

The Scrutiny Reserve Resolution November 1998 demands that topics associated with the EU’s military ambitions are subject to a full UK Parliamentary scrutiny process ahead of a ministerial decision, whether that decision is to reject or approve. At several occasions, UK ministers including the Prime Minister proceeded in the absence of Parliamentary scrutiny and provided approval of EU Council conclusions towards the EU’s new defence architecture including the advancement of PESCO and the connected legislative landscape. Additionally, the Government also lacked Parliamentary scrutiny over its decision to proclaim the merits of PESCO or encourage other states to participate. The final decision on PESCO participation by 25 member states was for those states to take on their own, separate from EU Council.

 

  1. ‘It has the potential to help drive up defence investment in Europe and to strengthen capability’

PESCO’s ‘Common Commitment’ to gradually increase defence spending duplicates a similar NATO commitment for the 20 NATO states among the 25 PESCO states. There is a risk that joint authority creates individual inaction and Italy has reduced its defence spend since joining PESCO. EU member states were invited to accelerate their defence spending increase by the US and UK, but the EU Commission president called on EU states to ignore this request. It therefore appears superfluous for UK ministers to claim PESCO duplicating calls for higher funding are the reason for UK support.

 

  1. ‘The UK will not join PESCO as a participating EU member state’

This line is potentially misleading because it does not rule out the UK joining, but simply rules out joining before 29 March 2019. The Political Declaration does in fact commit the UK to PESCO projects “to the extent possible under EU law” after UK exit. This necessitates EU rules, payments, programme governance and policy associated with PESCO – significant and onerous commitments which amount to a transfer of defence authority to the EU.

 

  1. ‘Important to us that PESCO remains open to non-EU states’

The EU has already told ministers that PESCO participation will be open only to those non-EU states which commit to wider EU Common Security and Defence Policy and EU defence industrial rules. The Cabinet Office has stated an intention for the UK to stay in these rules ‘with no gap’. A significant and onerous commitment to EU authority when the UK is supposed to be moving in the opposite direction.

 

  1. ‘PESCO must be designed in a way that…’

This statement is redundant because PESCO was already designed and its legal requirements already known at the time this line was written. The notion that the regulatory obligations arising from EU Defence are flexible or negotiable was first promoted by the government when concerns arose about those obligations. It is fundamentally untrue. If participation criteria for PESCO or other parts of EU Defence were truly unknown, then that should be a reason to withhold commitment rather than commit.

 

  1. ‘strengthens the relationship with NATO’

Much of PESCO’s interface with NATO is cause for concern. In EU Commission texts, PESCO is now described as the “main defence cooperation framework” for its members. This directly undermines NATO.

In defence spending, the EU claims precedence in deciding investment levels and choices.

PESCO is one of the ‘pillars of the EU Defence Union’ and the text creating this defence union asserts ‘defence decision-making autonomy from NATO’.

The EU Defence Union creates decision-making structures separate from NATO at the same time that the EU claims to be enhancing cooperation with NATO via a range of ‘delegated tasks’.

These EU actions are the opposite of ‘strengthening the relationship with NATO’.

The Military Mobility initiative is being done within the decision-making confines of the EU institutions (EU Commission and PESCO) rather than NATO.

 

  1. ‘promotes an open and competitive European defence industry’

In several ways, PESCO does the exact opposite to ‘promoting an open and competitive European defence industry’. It is a programme concluded at the highest level among states which agree to PESCO’s political and integrative doctrine. PESCO imposes EU governance structures throughout. Only states which accept EU rules, structures, policies, payments and commitments may participate. Therefore, it creates a defence industrial landscape which is highly exclusive and highly centralised in its decision-making in contrast to the previous potential for open, flexible international project cooperation. States must also agree that the resulting concepts and capabilities are jointly applied. PESCO sits within a wider EU Defence Union architecture, including the European Defence Fund and EU Defence Procurement Directive, which is also highly territorial and restricted to participant states which have made a political, legislative and budgetary commitment to joint policy and outcomes.

Non-EU countries within the World Trade Organisation may allocate defence contracts exclusively to their domestic industry to protect strategic interests and maintain the competitiveness of domestic industry. However, EU defence procurement rules mean that member states lose the right to do this for the benefit of domestic industry.

 

  1. ‘Capabilities delivered are available not only to the EU’

An acknowledgement that capabilities developed via PESCO would be controlled and deployed via legal and political instruments of the EU, not those of the UK. MPs should take note of this important line.

 

  1. ‘Can also be used in support of NATO’

This simply means that the EU could permit forces composed from NATO member states being used in NATO operations. It is a phrase with little actual meaning and adds nothing to observers’ understanding of the EU’s positioning in regard to NATO, especially in light of the EU’s self-declared ‘decision-making autonomy from NATO’. Although the EU is saying its capabilities might be used in support of NATO, this does not mitigate the EU’s creation of a separate and potentially overlapping military network among European allies.

 

  1. ‘Both UK and European industries can continue working together’

This requires clarification. Previous version of the UK Government’s defence plans state that the UK would be under the EU Commission-regulated European Defence Technological and Industrial Base. Although later Government statements claim that the UK would be out of EDTIB, the structural and legal attachment proposed for the UK has not changed.

Cooperation between the UK and either the EU institutions or individual member states does not require structural attachment.

The minister’s words in this area are in the context of Government placing the UK into a longer commitment to EU rules, therefore overriding UK decision-making, because this is the only method the EU will consider for UK participation in EU defence industrial programmes.

 

  1. ‘Under no circumstances would the UK ever surrender control of our Armed Forces to anybody’

There has been a gradual, not sudden, transfer of control over future defence decision-making. The proposed future defence arrangement would amount to a further transfer of control. This reflects the stated ‘gradual framing’ of the EU Common Security and Defence Policy towards a ‘Common Defence’ (a unitary military) within the current EU budget cycle.

 

  1. ‘And fundamental to our approach is for the EU‘s contribution to defence and security to be complimentary to and respect the role of NATO which is the cornerstone of our defence’

The legislative text creating EU Defence asserts ‘defence decision-making autonomy from NATO’ and creates decision-making structures separate from NATO. This is the opposite of ‘respecting the role with NATO’.

 

  1. ‘the creation of the European army has never formally been proposed at the EU level’

This is incorrect. The creation of a unitary EU military has been proposed several times at the EU level. The frequency of proposals has increased steadily since 2014. A single, unitary EU military exists in the Lisbon Treaty as ‘Common Defence’, which is intended to be the result of the ‘gradual framing’ of a Common Security and Defence Policy. The EU Commission president and several EU Council heads of government have called for a Common Defence to follow the EU Defence Union process they initiated in 2016. The EU Parliament has made several calls for integrated EU armed forces and for accelerate movement towards Common Defence. It has endorsed the EU Defence Union process. The EU Commission’s June 2017 ‘Reflection Paper on the Future of European Defence’ suggests ‘overcoming obstacles to common financing’ while “progressing towards a Common Defence”.

 

  1. ‘We do not believe that it would receive widespread support’

This is incorrect because the EU Commission’s proposals towards military integration have received no opposition from member states since the current phase began in 2016. There were reports of a retrospective attempt by the UK Foreign Office to amend its consent for the growth of EU defence policy instruments, but if reports were true this attempt was unsuccessful. The EEAS has admitted it has all the frameworks and agreements it requires towards an EU Defence Union. The EU Parliament has passed resolutions towards more rapid defence integration. The EU Commission, EU Parliament and members of the EU Council have called for an ‘EU Security Council’ where member states’ veto is removed and decisions are taken via a qualified majority.

 

  1. ‘We will not support measures that would undermine member states competence for their own military forces or lead to competition and duplication with NATO’

This is incorrect and is not the reality regarding EU competences. The Foreign Office has stated that defence is now no longer a member state preserve. Since 2016, ministers have unquestionably supported measures which increase EU defence competence at the expense of Member States’ competence. UK ministers have permitted more powers to be adopted by the EU via the expansion of policies, new budgets, new governance structures, new powers and governance structures for EU defence bodies and new EU finance streams designed to directly influence national budgets towards an integrated strategy, such as CARD. The new structures, budgets and policies of the EU defence architecture created since 2016 are designed to grow as member state participation and funding both expand further in the months and years ahead. This expands the EU’s remit in the context of EU versus member state competences.

The EU Defence Fund, approved by UK ministers, will diminish member states’ defence competence. As its financial power expands, the fund will increasingly place authority into the joint EU-wide platform. The UK has also supported the EU towards its creation of PESCO and has even proposed participation in it – PESCO is a binding commitment towards joint decision-making and away from domestic democratic accountability by member states. The EU describes PESCO as a driver for integration in the field of defence. The result is the opposite of securing Member States’ competence for the own military forces. In addition, the potential for duplication with NATO has been created in more than 20 separate areas from logistics and medical to airlift and emergency command.

 

  1. ‘We continue to make clear that defence remains a national competence’

It is incorrect by any definition for the minister to claim that Government ‘continues to make clear that defence remains a national competence’ – both the EU and departments of UK Government are on record with the opposite message. The UK Government has permitted the EU to define defence as a ‘Special Competence of the EU’, instead of ‘exclusive’, ‘shared’ or a ‘supporting competence’. The EU’s Treaty on European Union gives the EU competence to define and implement a common foreign and security policy, including the progressive framing of a common defence policy’. The treaty also removes the requirement for unanimous decision making among member states for a range of defence-related topics including areas of defence policy funding and the operation of the armaments agency. More recently, UK ministers have repeatedly given a green light to EU defence manoeuvres at the EU Council since the Brexit referendum. This has allowed the EU to expand its remit over defence with the creation and growth of EU-controlled rules, policies and structures where the UK has either remained a participant or become a participant where the structures are new. EU defence functions or joint member state functions at EU level clearly further remove member states’ competence including the UK’s. If defence competence were truly to be preserved with member states, the wide range of new EU structures would need to be toothless or dysfunctional. The minister’s words are also in conflict with his own senior departmental officials, such as the diplomat who was ambassador to the EU’s Political and Security Committee. who said, “Defence is no longer a member state preserve in the EU” and “the EU Commission is needed if we are to respond to modern threats to Europe”. This was said 16 months after the Brexit referendum. The diplomat in question moved to become head of defence and security at the Foreign Office and is now ‘Director of General Strategy and International’ at the Ministry of Defence.

 

  1. On the European intervention initiative

The minister who wrote this letter was the minister responsible for the UK joining the European Intervention Initiative in the absence of a Parliamentary debate and vote. He claims that it is not an EU initiative, but he fails to mention that the legal text of the EI2 initiative links it to PESCO and integrative EU Defence Policy.

The Letter of Intent concerning the development of the European Intervention Initiative (EI2) on 25 June 2018 states this clearly: ‘EI2 intends to contribute to ongoing efforts within the European Union to deepen defence cooperation, notably PESCO as detailed in Paragraph 9.’

It adds, ‘EI2 participating states will strive to ensure that EI2 serves the objectives and projects of PESCO to the maximum extent possible.’

Also, the EI2 agreement says, ‘Denmark will participate in full respect of the Danish opt-out from the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy’. There is no such caveat for the UK.

The EI2 agreement says the scheme will even ‘merge with existing PESCO projects’ or ‘constitute new ones’.

President Macron, who created the EI2 says that it is ‘Key to European Sovereignty’ and ‘allows for integration of EU armed forces’. The UK has always been opposed to participating in European military integration, therefore the UK’s involvement in EI2 represents a change of course with inadequate explanation having been provided to Parliament and public.

Macron’s ‘A sovereign Europe’ presentation, which launched the EI2 at the end of 2017, said:

‘In defence matters, Europe must have a common intervention force, a common defence budget and a common doctrine to act. The establishment of the European Defence Fund, the permanent structured cooperation, should be encouraged as soon as possible and complemented by a European Intervention Initiative that will better integrate our armed forces at all stages.’

MPs simply have not been told that EI2 is closely connected to CSDP and PESCO or that it is launched with the intention for a common defence budget and joint commitments in mobilisation.

Macron describes EI2 as complementary to the EU’s European Defence Fund. Any formal funding links between EI2 and European Defence Fund would therefore create a further ‘lock’ on UK involvement in the European Defence Fund. Existing ‘locks’ are EU Council commitments, industrial involvement and the proposal for a successor defence treaty after UK Exit Day. The European Defence Fund itself commits the UK to yet further policy commitments. MPs have not had a chance to vote on this subject or to become familiar with the inevitable loss of UK decision-making authority.