In less than two years, the number of PESCO projects has increased from 17 to 47. More importantly, the projects are growing in scope and ambition too, with increased budgets and more advanced technologies and capabilities (see box on page 16).
The crucial aspect of PESCO, however, lies in its 20 common binding commitments, which each participating Member State agreed to fulfil when joining the PESCO framework. These are designed to help fulfil the EU Treaty’s level of ambition in defence which includes carrying out the most demanding missions and operations, boosting European defence cooperation, and developing national defence capabilities via multinational procurement projects that involve the most appropriate industrial entities, including small and medium sized enterprises. The long term vision of PESCO is to arrive at a coherent full spectrum force package – in complementarity with NATO which will continue to be the cornerstone of collective defence for its members.
To achieve those objectives, the PESCO countries have started embedding the commitments’ European perspective in their national defence planning, budgets, programmes, and joint efforts. Thus, the impact and benefits of PESCO should not be assessed against the size and value of the projects only; equally important are the permanent changes initiated and achieved by the 20 commitments.
Along with other players, the European Defence Agency (EDA) is a key PESCO facilitator. Taking the EU’s Capability Development Priorities (approved in June 2018) as a baseline, as well as the findings of the Coordinated Annual Review on Defence (CARD), the Agency supports the participating Member States in implementing PESCO in both aspects, to develop a common understanding on the attainment of the commitments and to support capability development projects. Over time, this should contribute to improve the coherence of the European defence capability landscape and strengthen its defence and industrial base.
Commitments are important
PESCO’s 20 binding commitments are grouped in five broad categories, related to: the level of national investment expenditure on defence equipment; the alignment of the Member States’ defence apparatus; the availability, interoperability, flexibility and deployability of their forces; the multinational approach to close capability gaps; and, finally, the use of EDA as the framework for major joint equipment programmes.
The commitments motivate national planners to assess the impact of their plans and programmes against the European defence capability landscape. One crucial question each planner will need to answer is: will my national programme boost that landscape’s coherence or lead to more fragmentation?
Clearly, that kind of thinking rises above a strictly national viewpoint. “It means embedding the EU perspective into national planning and taking into account all those EU inputs and tools such as the Global Strategy, CARD, CDP, the European Defence Fund and other initiatives. This demands a real change in thinking,” says Alessandro Cignoni, Head of EDA’s PESCO Unit.
Though PESCO’s first phase will end in 2025, the Member States will carry out a strategic review of its outputs in 2020 to take stock and define more precise objectives for its evolution. The review will generate data and evidence for better aligning the EU’s defence-related initiatives via stronger synergies and cross-fertilisation between PESCO and CARD, for example.