A Sight on European Defence

On 15th June, Mr Robert Walter, Member of the British Parliament (Conservative) and President of the European Security and Defence Assembly (formerly known as WEU Assembly) pronounced a speech at the occasion of the 58th session of the assembly (here).

Despite the decision of Member countries to dissolve the WEU assembly, Mr Walter would like this forum to further exist, in order to preserve the capability of National Parliaments to scrutinize the now Common Security and Defence Policy. His views come not only from his intrinsic political opinions and orientations. Taking into account that CSDP is first of all an intergovernmental issue and the primary responsibility of the national parliaments is to control their governments, he has identified a potential crack in the European Defence architecture.

The European Council, controlled by the 27 governments may decide of an action and will subsequently express guidance to the relevant EU services to make it real. Then they will turn back to their national administrations to set up a force. I will focus on the military issue. The EEAS will have some limited responsibilities: in a military operation, most of the costs are charged against the participating countries. Regarding the unfolding of the operation, most of, if not all, the political risks will be taken over by the governments and their coalition in the respective national Parliaments.

The commitment of troops will remain anyway a national decision as the nations pay for their armed forces and nobody else, and as well, if the operation goes wrong, the government can loose the next election. In the current legal situation of the EU, such a political risk does not exist for the European Parliament.

However, a national decision to commit or not troops, to go or not to an operation, will never be a purely national decision. The participation will always be the result of a compromise, taking into account, of course, national considerations as well as international pressures, including influence from the European partners. As a consequence, one could legitimately accept that the Member of a national Parliament keeps in touch with colleagues from other parliaments to understand better their own perception of the operation, or any other topic to be debated in the European instances.

This way of doing is not redundant with the European Parliament tasks: the EP has no formal responsibility regarding the commitment of troops or defence equipment and budgets. May be the European Parliament owns larger prerogatives by civilian missions, but in no way by military ones. At least, not yet, except the Athena program, which represents only a fragment of the real cost of an operation.

As currently, European Defence is stuck in sand, Mr Walter’s initiative is not a comeback to previous situation. I would rather interpret it as a pragmatic approach of the current political situation of Europe, where many countries get back to purely national considerations when dealing with defence issues. My only hope is that Mr Walter’s stance will have only a tactical effect to set again in movement European defence and not a strategic one by redesigning European Defence for the 20 next years as a pure coalition of interests.

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