As the most visible part of PESCO, the projects are important but not sufficient. More is needed to make of PESCO the long-yearned-for game changer expected to lift EU defence cooperation to a new level. It has to be used as a tool, a political instrument and framework for structured, sustainable deepening of European defence cooperation rather than just a collection of individual projects. Because PESCO’s ambition, unequivocally stated in the Treaty, was further defined in the notification the 25 participating Member States addressed to the Council last November: making PESCO the “most important instrument to foster common security and defence” and a tool intended to provide Europe with “a coherent full spectrum force package, in complementarity with NATO”.
The PESCO secretariat supports participating Member States for all PESCO-related matters including the work on evaluating their projects and contributing to the annual assessment of PESCO participants’ contributions and the fulfilment of the 20 binding commitments.
PESCO has great potential to change the way the EU Member States organise their defence cooperation, in a structured way with a permanent, long-term perspective based on the accountability of the participating Member States who have made more binding commitments to one another.
To be successful, it must tick at least four important boxes.
1. Respect of commitments
First and foremost, it is paramount to preserve the core aspect that differentiates PESCO from previous defence cooperation initiatives: the binding nature of the common commitments the 25 participating Member States have signed up to, in five different areas. The way PESCO is implemented and monitored should unambiguously reflect this binding character. Hopefully, it will trigger a change of mindsets in European Ministries of Defence where the “European collaborative approach” should be considered “as a priority” (commitment No.16) with a view to ensuring more common planning, harmonised requirements, joint capability development and a common use of forces in the future.
The mechanism in place to ensure Member States will actually live up to their commitments is built on the National Implementation Plans (NIPs) that participating Member States presented at the PESCO launch and which will be updated on an annual basis, outlining how each of them intends to meet its overall commitments and the more specific objectives to be fulfilled at each phase.
This much is certain: PESCO’s credibility and success stands and falls on the ambition with which the participating Member States fulfil their commitments as reported through the NIPs underpinned by a sound assessment process.
The PESCO secretariat is crucially involved in this sensitive part of the edifice, as it will assess the updated NIPs annually to determine if and to what extent the commitments are met. Based on the secretariat’s contributions, the High Representative (HR) of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy will present an annual report to the Council, describing the status of PESCO implementation and assessing the fulfilment of commitments. Based on that report, it will be up to the Council to decide whether the participating Member States individually continue to fulfil their commitments or not.