Sunday, 3rd November 2019
Those following the progress of European Defence Union will have heard of PESCO, the Permanent Structured Cooperation on Security and Defence. Termed the sleeping beauty of the Lisbon treaty, it aims to deepen defence cooperation among EU nations. You may be aware the UK has not formally signed up to this legally binding agreement; but is nevertheless involved in many of its constituent parts, such as the drive to improve military mobility. But have you heard of the opposite pole of European Defence Union? It is called the European Intervention Initiative or EI2.

While PESCO is founded on the Lisbon Treaty, EI2 is based solely on a Letter of Intent. While PESCO is open to all EU member states and “exceptionally” third countries (meaning the UK), EI2 is by invitation only. The UK is officially not signed up to PESCO, but our country is a founding member of EI2.

So what is it?

The House of Commons Library summarises EI2 as follows:

The European Intervention Initiative (EII/EI2) is a French-led initiative set out by President Macron in September 2017 as part of his vision for a “sovereign, united and democratic Europe”. In order to achieve that ambition he put forward proposals for a common European intervention force and a common doctrine for action, independent of the European Union. Ten European countries, including the UK, are involved in the initiative. Italy indicated its willingness to join in September 2019.

You might wonder why, if we are leaving the EU to be an independent nation once again, our military is signed up to a project to create a sovereign united Europe? You might also wonder at the quiet introduction of such a potentially far-reaching project. It is perhaps telling that Italy’s move towards joining has likewise been accompanied by “thunderous silence”.

The scope of the agreement brings a new highpoint in the history of the open-ended. The House of Commons Library continues:

At its heart the EII will be a flexible and non-binding forum of European states that are able, and willing, to engage their military forces when and where necessary in order to protect European security interests across the spectrum of crises, and without prejudice to the framework through which action is taken (i.e. the UN, NATO, the EU or as an ad hoc coalition).

The EII is European in focus but entirely independent of the European Union and NATO with respect to their decision-making structures.

Given that the EII is a defence initiative outside of the governance of the European Union, UK participation in it will not be affected in any way by Brexit. However, UK participation in an initiative that is so closely linked to EU defence projects, and PESCO in particular, has raised some concerns among pro-Brexit commentators who fear that the initiative could involve Britain in an embryonic European Army ‘by the back door’.

The Letter of Intent was signed on June 25th, 2018, and goes into further detail. It describes the four main fields the will constitute the focus of EI2, which are:

  • Strategic foresight and Intelligence sharing
  • Scenario development and planning
  • Support to operations
  • Lessons learned and doctrine

It also states that:

EI2 intends to contribute to ongoing efforts within the European Union to deepen defence cooperation, notably PESCO.

This document was signed by Earl Howe.

In fact, he was “very keen” to sign.

In a written statement to parliament on 21st June, four days before this document was signed, Sir Alan Duncan told the Parliament that:

My Noble Friend, the Minister of State for Defence (The Rt Hon Earl Howe) and I plan to attend the Joint Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) with EU Foreign Affairs and Defence Ministers on the morning of 25 June. I will attend a meeting of the FAC for Foreign Ministers only that afternoon. The FAC will be chaired by the High Representative and Vice President (HRVP) of the European Union (EU) for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini. The meeting will be held in Luxembourg.

The joint FAC will discuss Security and Defence issues including EU-NATO cooperation. Foreign Ministers will then discuss current foreign policy issues including Yemen, the Red Sea and Horn of Africa, Jordan, and the EU Global Strategy.

He made no reference to EI2. Whyever not?

As is so often the case in European defence matters, the quietness of Her Majesty's Government is in stark contrast to the clamorous announcements from across the English Channel where French President Macron stated:

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

This is in the context of his broader speech which listed "A Europe that guarantees every aspect of security” as one of “the six keys to European sovereignty”.

In the UK, The Daily Express covered the story and Veterans for Britain raised the alarm. In reply, a Government spokesman said:

While our relationship with the EU is changing, we have been clear that we are unconditionally committed to European security. We are strongest together and already work with our European allies as part of Nato, the cornerstone of our defence.

Regular viewers of UK Government correspondence will smile at the immediate reference to "NATO" to quell public concern whenever some aspect of European defence unification becomes luminous.

And today the EI2 programme remains in active operation and the UK remains a key participant and founding signatory. Recent reports give an overview of thinking on the continent, whilst our own Government maintains a discreet silence.. 

These reports include "Europe’s defence: between EI2 and PESCO" by Dimitra Koutouzi and published on 27th October this year, which concludes:

...both initiatives, EI2 and PESCO, can contribute to the strategic autonomy of the EU if both cooperate with each other. Strategic autonomy does not indicate the EU acting alone but to use all of its capabilities. Strategic autonomy is not limited to defence, but it covers all aspects of interaction and cooperation.

To sum up, developing a European strategic culture can lead the European countries to take more responsibility for their own security and to be more united. Europe does not need to develop defence in two different levels, but all the countries should be united as they face a rival Russia, “an increasingly powerful China and a Jacksonian US".

The  Netherlands Institute of International Relations ‘Clingendael' report titled "The European Intervention Initiative Developing a shared strategic culture for European defence" of September 2019 gives a broad overview of the programme, its background and contradictions. Some of the Dutch Government statements are in stark contrast to the French.

Our summary is that EI2 was founded to overcome the slow pace of European Military Unification. Its aim is European sovereignty. The UK is at the centre of this project, despite what its people may believe or wish. The Baltic, the Sahel and the Caribbean (where The United Kingdom, France and the Netherlands all have overseas territories) seem to be the main areas of interest for now. Its future development pathway is unclear.

In short, like most European defence initiatives, EI2 makes statements about transparency and open communication, as it proceeds to an undeclared destination in thunderous silence.