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Defence: Is the EU creating a European army?

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While there is no EU army and defence remains exclusively a matter for member states, the EU has recently taken big steps to boost defence co-operation. Security 

Since 2016, there has been significant progress in the area of EU security and defence with several concrete EU initiatives to encourage co-operation and reinforce Europe’s capacity to defend itself. Read the overview of the latest developments.

High expectations for EU defence

Europeans expect the EU to guarantee security and peace. Three quarters (75%) are in favour of a common EU defence and security policy according to a special Eurobarometer on security and defence in 2017 and a majority (55%) were in favour of creating an EU army. More recently 68% of Europeans said they would like the EU to do more on defence (March 2018 Eurobarometer survey).

EU leaders realise that no EU country can tackle the current security threats in isolation. For example French President Macron called for a joint European military project  in 2017, while German Chancellor Merkel said “we ought to work on the vision of one day establishing a proper European army” in her address to the European Parliament in November 2018. Moving towards a security and defence union has been one of the priorities of the von der Leyen Commission.

EN - 2018 Eurobarometer: % of Europeans think that the EU should do more in security and defence policy
Most Europeans want the EU to do more to boost security and defence  

Recent EU measures to boost defence co-operation

A common EU defence policy is provided for by the Treaty of Lisbon (Article 42(2) TEU). However, the treaty also clearly states the importance of national defence policy, including NATO membership or neutrality.

In recent years, the EU has begun to implement ambitious initiatives to provide more resources, stimulate efficiency, facilitate cooperation and support the development of capabilities:

  • Permanent structured cooperation (PESCO) was launched in December 2017, and 25 EU countries are participating as of June 2019. It currently operates on the basis of 47 collaborative projects with binding commitments including a European Medical Command, Maritime Surveillance System, mutual assistance for cyber-security and rapid response teams, and a Joint EU intelligence school.
  • The European Defence Fund (EDF) was launched in June 2017. It is the first time the EU budget is used to co-fund defence cooperation. On 29 April 2021, MEPs agreed to fund the flagship instrument with a budget of €7.9 billion as part of the EU's long-term budget (2021-2027). The fund will complement national investments and provide both practical and financial incentives for collaborative research, joint development and acquisition of defence equipment and technology.
  • The EU strengthened co-operation with NATO on 74 projects across seven areas including cybersecurity, joint exercises and counter-terrorism.
  • A plan to facilitate military mobility within and across the EU to make it possible for military personnel and equipment to act faster in response to crises.
  • Making the financing of civilian and military missions and operations more effective. The EU currently has 17 such missions on three continents, with a wide range of mandates and deploying more than 6,000 civilian and military personnel.
  • Since June 2017 there is a new command and control structure (MPCC) to improve the EU’s crisis management.

Spending more, spending better, spending together

At Nato's Wales summit in 2014, the EU countries that are members of Nato committed to spend 2% of their gross domestic product (GDP) on defence by 2024. The European Parliament has been calling on member states to live up to it.

NATO 2019 estimates show that only five EU countries (Greece, Estonia, Latvia, Poland and Lithuania) spent more than 2% of their GDP on defence.

However, building up EU defence is not only about spending more, but also about spending efficiently. EU countries collectively are the second largest defence spender in the world after the US but an estimated €26.4bn is wasted every year due to duplication, overcapacity and barriers to procurement. As a result, more than six times as many defence systems are used in Europe than in the United States. This is where the EU can provide the conditions for countries to collaborate more.

If Europe is to compete worldwide, it will need to pool and integrate its best capabilities as it is estimated that by 2025 China will become the second largest defence spender in the world after the US.

infographic illustration on benefits of closer cooperation on defence at EU level
The benefits of closer cooperation on defence  

The European Parliament’s position

The European Parliament has repeatedly called for fully using the potential of the Lisbon Treaty provisions to works towards a European defence union. It consistently supports more cooperation, increased investment and pooling resources to create synergies at EU level in order to better protect Europeans.

Challenges involved

Apart from practical challenges, the EU needs to reconcile different traditions and different strategic cultures. Parliament believes that an EU white paper on defence would be a useful way to do it and underpin the development of a future EU defence policy.

coronavirus

Biden G7 and NATO to-do list: Unite allies, fight autocracy, attack COVID-19

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President Joe Biden’s meeting with leaders of the G7 leading industrial economies in an English seaside village this week will usher in a new focus on rallying US allies against common adversaries - the COVID-19 pandemic, Russia and China, Reuters.

New COVID-19 variants and rising death tolls in some countries will loom large during the gathering from Friday to Sunday (11-13 June), alongside climate change, strengthening global supply chains and ensuring the West maintains its technological edge over China, the world's second-largest economy.

Biden, a Democrat, vowed to rebuild relations with allies after four rocky years under former President Donald Trump, who pulled Washington out of several multilateral institutions and threatened at one point to quit NATO.

"In this moment of global uncertainty, as the world still grapples with a once-in-a-century pandemic, this trip is about realizing America’s renewed commitment to our allies and partners," Biden wrote in an opinion piece published by the Washington Post on Saturday.

The gathering will put Biden's "America is back" motto to the test, with allies disillusioned during the Trump years looking for tangible, lasting action.

It is a pivotal moment for the United States and the world, former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said on CNN on Sunday.

"Is international cooperation going to be restored or are we still in this world where nationalism, protectionism and to some extent isolationism are dominating?" Brown asked.

Russia will be at the forefront of attention at the G7 summit in Cornwall, England, and the days afterward when Biden meets with European leaders and NATO allies in Brussels, before heading to Geneva to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The recent ransomware attack on JBS (JBSS3.SA), the world’s largest meatpacker, by a criminal group likely based in Russia, and Putin’s financial backing for Belarus after it forced a Ryanair (RYA.I) flight to land so it could arrest a dissident journalist on board, are pushing U.S. officials to consider sharper action.

On the sidelines of the NATO summit, Biden is also expected to meet with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, a crucial session between the sparring NATO allies after Ankara's purchase of Russian defense systems angered Washington and risked driving a wedge within the alliance.

G7 finance ministers reached a landmark global deal on Saturday (5 June to set a minimum global corporate tax rate of at least 15%, potentially hitting giant tech companies like Alphabet Inc’s (GOOGL.O) Google, Facebook Inc (FB.O) and Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN.O) Biden and his counterparts will give the deal their final blessing in Cornwall. The Biden administration, which on Thursday (3 June) detailed its plans to donate 80 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines globally by the end of June, is leaning heavily on allies to follow suit as the global pandemic death toll approaches 4 million, US and diplomatic sources say.

Washington reversed course last month and backed negotiations over waivers for intellectual property protections at the World Trade Organization to speed vaccine production in developing countries, much to the chagrin of Germany and Britain.

European diplomats say they see little common ground on the issue, and argue that any WTO compromise would take months to finalize and implement. That may prove a moot point if sufficient vaccine doses are shared with developing countries to slow - and eventually halt - the pandemic.

Biden announced plans in May to require U.S. government contractors and financial institutions to be more transparent about the climate change risks faced by their investments, and administration officials are pushing other countries to adopt similar plans.

The UK also wants governments to require businesses to report such risks as a way to boost investment in green projects. But agreement on a way forward is unlikely to come in June. A deal could emerge at a U.N. climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, in November.

G7 countries also have different views on carbon pricing, which the International Monetary Fund views as a key way to curb carbon dioxide emissions and reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

The Biden administration will urge allies to unite against China over allegations of forced labor in Xinjiang province, home to the Muslim Uighur minority, even as it seeks to maintain Beijing as an ally in the climate change fight.

Sources following the discussions say they expect G7 leaders to adopt strong language on the forced labor issue. China denies all accusations of abuse in Xinjiang.

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Crime

Security Union: EU rules on removing terrorist content online enter into force

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Landmark EU rules on addressing the dissemination of terrorist content online entered into force on 7 June. Platforms will have to remove terrorist content referred by member states' authorities within one hour. The rules will also help to counter the spread of extremist ideologies online - a vital part of preventing attacks and addressing radicalization. The rules include strong safeguards to ensure the full respect of fundamental rights such as freedom of expression and information. The Regulation will also set transparency obligations for online platforms and for national authorities to report on the amount of terrorist content removed, the measures used to identify and remove content, the outcomes of complaints and appeals, as well as the number and type of penalties imposed on online platforms.

Member States will be able to sanction non-compliance and to decide on the level of penalties, which will be proportionate to the nature of the infringement. The size of the platform will also be taken into consideration, so as to not impose unduly high penalties relative to the platform's size. Member states and online platforms offering services in the EU now have one year to adapt their processes.

The Regulation applies as of 7 June 2022. Promoting our European Way of Life Vice President Margaritis Schinas, said: “With these landmark new rules, we are cracking down on the proliferation of terrorist content online and making the EU's Security Union a reality. From now on, online platforms will have one hour to get terrorist content off the web, ensuring attacks like the one in Christchurch cannot be used to pollute screens and minds. This is a huge milestone in Europe's counter-terrorism and anti-radicalization response.”

Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said: "Taking down terrorist content immediately is crucial to stop terrorists from exploiting the Internet to recruit and encourage attacks and to glorify their crimes. It is equally crucial to protect victims and their families from being confronted with crimes a second time online. The Regulation sets clear rules and responsibilities for member states and for online platforms, protecting freedom of speech where warranted."

This factsheet provides further information on the new rules. The rules are an essential part of the Commission's Counter-Terrorism Agenda.

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Crime

Customs Union: EU steps up its rules on cash controls to fight money laundering and terrorist financing

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New rules came into force on 3 June, which will improve the EU's system of controls of cash entering and leaving the EU. As part of the EU's efforts to tackle money laundering and to cut off sources of terrorist financing, all travellers entering or leaving EU territory are already obliged to complete a cash declaration when carrying €10,000 or more in currency, or its equivalent in other currencies, or other means of payment, such as travellers' cheques, promissory notes, etc.

As of 3 June, however, a number of changes will be implemented that will further tighten the rules and make it even more difficult to move large amounts of undetected cash. First, the definition of ‘cash' under the new rules will be extended and will now cover gold coins and certain other gold items. Second, customs authorities will be able to act on amounts lower than €10,000 when there are indications that cash is linked to criminal activity. Finally, customs authorities may also now request that a cash disclosure declaration be lodged when they detect €10,000 or more in cash being sent unaccompanied via post, freight or courier.

The new rules will also ensure that the competent authorities and national Financial Intelligence Unit in each member state have the information they need to track and tackle movements of cash that could be used to fund illegal activity. The implementation of the updated rules mean that the latest developments in the Financial Action Task Force's (FATF) international standards on combating money laundering and terrorism financing are reflected in EU legislation. Full details and a factsheet on the new system are available here.

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