A fortnight ago, Theresa May flew to Brussels to meet Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, and Michel Barnier, Chief Brexit Negotiator for the European Commission.
According to the mainstream media, their dinner date was designed to break the “deadlock” in the Brexit process, in preparation for the European Council Heads of Government meeting taking place a few days later.
Yet if we take a step back from all the media noise on Brexit, we find a flurry of activity which, far from being chaotic, is, in fact, extremely orderly.
During the week prior to Theresa’s dinner with Juncker and Barnier, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson met with their Polish counterparts to discuss security and defence cooperation.
Fallon and Polish Defence Minister Macierewicz discussed increasing military ties and co-operation, including working towards a “Defence Capability and Industrial Partnership” to strengthen cooperation between the UK and Polish defence industries.
They also progressed talks on the Defence and Security Cooperation Treaty, which the Prime Minister will sign at the next UK-Poland Inter-Governmental meeting in December. Another bilateral defence treaty which Parliament has had no say in, to add to the Lancaster House Franco-British defence pact, and the British-German defence pact.
While Fallon and Johnson were dancing around the Poles, Jens Stoltenberg and EU “High Representative” Federica Mogherini were yet again meeting to discuss closer EU-NATO ties. Most people miss the implication of this: EU member nations are already members of NATO. Stoltenberg and Mogherini are discussing a unified EU military and its relationship to NATO.
A few days later, Boris Johnson was busy once again, this time joined by the foreign ministers of Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia at Chevening House to discuss “shared challenges” and the UK’s “continued commitment” to EU security and defence.
All this activity raises some questions:
Why would both Michael Fallon and Boris Johnson be pursuing defence partnerships with EU nations while a process to disentangle Britain from EU institutions is supposed to be in progress?
Indeed, why would Boris Johnson be singling out EU security and defence for an “unconditional and immovable commitment” by Britain? Surely Britain’s commitment to the EU post-Brexit is met through NATO?
So it should perhaps come as no surprise that the two men Theresa May met for dinner two weeks ago are the two key architects of EU military unification.
On 25 June 2015, the European Political Strategy Centre (EPSC), the European Commission’s in-house think tank, published a “strategic note” entitled “In Defence of Europe”. EPSC Strategic Notes are analytical papers on topics chosen by the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker.
This particular Strategic Note was written by a team led by Michel Barnier.
“Jump-Starting a New Era in Defence,” the Strategic Note says.
Europe needs to move from the current patchwork of bilateral and multilateral military cooperation to gradually increased defence integration. The Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), provided in the Lisbon Treaty, could become a game changer in European security by enabling willing Member States to move forward.
That was the position of the European Commission in 2015: that Permanent Structured Cooperation would be the route to military unification. Yet over the years several EU nations had expressed concern about “multi speed” defence cooperation, and for PESCO to succeed, nations such as the UK would have to be willing to drop their veto.
This would put the UK in a very difficult position, because as far as its domestic politics is concerned, EU military unification is absolutely off the table. How then, could PESCO be pursued while the largest contributor to the EU defence budget is hamstrung by British public opinion?
In September this year, the EU’s European External Action Service wrote that:
European Union ministers of defence, meeting informally in Tallinn on 7 September under the aegis of the Estonian Presidency, were in broad agreement on how to move ahead with Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) on defence, paving the way for a legal decision launching PESCO possibly by the end of the year.
’Today we have registered a broad consensus on the main lines of Permanent Structured Cooperation,’ said EU High Representative Federica Mogherini in remarks following the meeting.
Michael Fallon’s second in command, Earl Howe, took part in the Tallinn meeting.
CARDs On The Table
PESCO is closely connected to the new Coordinated Annual Review on Defence (CARD) as well as the European Defence Fund (EDF), which is currently being developed under the European Defence Industrial Development Programme.
CARD was announced at the end of 2016. It is designed to meet the objectives in the EU Global Strategy (EUGS), which called for the “gradual synchronisation and mutual adaptation of national defence planning cycles and capability development practices”.
According to Daniel Fiott of the European Union Institute for Security Studies:
Along with the Military Planning and Conduct Capability (MPCC), the European Defence Fund and the prospect of Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), CARD emerges at a time when member states are seeking to build on the momentum of European defence started in June 2016 with the publication of the EUGS.
Understandably, the norm has been for member states to plan for their defence on a national basis. But this has made overall planning for defence difficult due to sometimes duplicative and costly spending priorities, capability development plans, procurement decisions and budgetary timelines. Therefore, CARD could provide a valuable ex-ante and ex-post [situation before and situation after merger] assessment of national defence plans that seizes on avenues for cooperation that may arise when assessing national defence plans together. With greater transparency, it could be possible to mutually identify capability development and defence research priorities. It is exactly this approach that could be invaluable for the 2018 Capability Development Plan (CDP) process.
Most of the activity we have discussed so far has been around defence itself. Yet, as David Ellis has constantly maintained during his appearances on UK Column News, defence union cannot happen on its own. With it comes single-point defence procurement, banking union, and an EU Treasury.
Right on cue this past week, the establishment of an EU “Chancellor of the Exchequer” role was announced by Jean-Claude Juncker. This came a day after the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, announced his intention to have an EU Treasury up and running by June 2018.
The question we posed earlier was, how could PESCO proceed while the EU’s largest contributor to its unified defence budget is not only prevented from joining through lack of domestic support, but could well be expected to use its veto?
The answer is it couldn’t.
Or rather, it couldn’t without Brexit.
Brexit is the key, and it is now clear that this was the intention for staging it all along. We now at last understand why David Cameron called a referendum which, to all appearances, was known to be risky and unnecessary for his own party.
Six months before the referendum on leaving the EU, David Cameron published a white paper called “The best of both worlds: the United Kingdom’s special status in a reformed European Union”.
In fact, this was much more than a white paper. It was a legally binding agreement designed to not only define the UK’s “special status within the European Union”, but it also set the “the EU as a whole on a path of long-term reform.”
David Cameron campaigned in the run up to the referendum on the terms set out in this legally binding agreement, yet the agreement was never mentioned during his campaign, nor in any of the debates.
To summarise Cameron’s position of spring 2016: if you vote to stay in the EU, you do so on the basis that Britain will remain in a reformed EU, with special status, and that we will opt out of the institutions we don’t like, such as the European Court of Justice.
Had Cameron won the referendum, he would have had to find a way round the elephant in the room — defence unification. It’s extremely unlikely he could have achieved it.
But Cameron lost the referendum. He fell on his sword and Theresa May took up the cause. Somehow — and I still find it incredible — somehow she managed to persuade 17 million "leave" voters, including all of UKIP, that she could be trusted with Brexit.
So let’s look at her present position in comparison with Cameron’s.
Cameron’s position was to stay. Hers was also to stay, but she’ll "respect" the vote and so her position is to leave.
Cameron’s position was to opt out of institutions that Britain could not be part of. Hers is to opt in to institutions Britain needs to be part of because otherwise our nuclear power stations will blow up and airplanes will fall from the sky.
Cameron’s position was that the EU would reform. Hers is that the EU will reform.
For the life of me, I can’t see the difference between these two positions from any practical standpoint.
So What Has Brexit Achieved?
Noise. And lots of it. Lots of nice noise which is distracting the press and media in a way we have never seen before.
And under the cover of that noise, Boris, Fallon, Mogherini, Stoltenberg, Juncker, Barnier and Tusk are all busy little bees, driving EU defence union forward, along with single-point defence procurement and a Treasury.
Will Britain be a full member? That remains to be seen.
As part of CSDP Partnerships, a third country [a non-member state] can actively participate in an EU CSDP mission or operation. This sort of partnerships and cooperation with countries that share the EU’s values can contribute to the effectiveness and impact of CSDP operations and missions. It can also strengthen the resilience of our partners. Cooperation with UN, NATO, AU [the African Union] and OSCE will also be enhanced.
The UK would like to offer a future relationship that is deeper than any current third country partnership and that reflects our shared interests, values and the importance of a strong and prosperous Europe. This future partnership should be unprecedented in its breadth, taking in cooperation on foreign policy, defence and security, and development, and in the degree of engagement that we envisage.
It is very difficult to see how there is an “in between” position which is deeper than any “third country” relationship yet which is not full membership of EU military union.
So, Theresa, your CARDs are on the table, and I can see your hand.
See our EU Military Unification Timeline for more ...