PESCO – one year on

Security- and defence cooperation in the EU is developing at a fast pace as the Member States are looking to cement unity in the wake of Brexit. In December last year, the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) was established among 25 Member States to allow closer cooperation on security operations and building up military capability. After being previously reluctant, Sweden signed on to participate and it has recently managed to secure a project for the Vidsel Test Range in northern Sweden.

The European Union is moving ahead fast with its security- and defence cooperation. A multitude of factors have played a key role in the EU’s decision to move toward a more integrated security and defence policy. Following Britain’s decision to leave the EU, security policy cooperation was identified as an area where the remaining members could manifest a willingness to stick together and forge an agenda. Relatively strong public support for integration in this field, combined with an increasingly aggressive Russia, has contributed to countries’ willingness. Plus, Britain’s withdrawal from the EU has also meant that the UK is no longer blocking attempts to strengthen cooperation. US President Donald Trump has also contributed to the rapid development by placing demands on European military capabilities while at the same time showing weak support for NATO. The shift in outlook has helped revive the idea of a Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), which was established in December last year, after a very rapid development. The starting point for the development of PESCO was the EU’s Global Strategy for Foreign and Security Policy, which was adopted in July 2016. The Swedish government said upon signing the declaration that the current security situation calls for all European countries to engage in creating a Europe that is united and has the capacity to take responsibility for its own security. In connection with the launch, EU leaders expressed great hopes for what the new defence cooperation could mean. The High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, described the signing of PESCO as a “historic moment in European defence,” The President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, claimed that the dream of a European defence community had finally been realised, while President of the EU Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, declared that “the Sleeping Beauty of the Lisbon Treaty has woken”.[ On 11 December 2017, the Council adopted a decision establishing the Permanent Structured Cooperation. PESCO enables EU member states to work more closely together in the area of security and defence. This permanent framework for defence cooperation allows willing and able member states to develop jointly defence capabilities, invest in shared projects, and enhance the operational readiness and contribution of their armed forces. However, the original idea of using PESCO to allow a small number of resourceful states to move further and faster in the defence arena, has now attracted so many member states that the original idea of an avant-garde has been somewhat watered down.

Twenty-five of the 28 EU member countries signed on to PESCO (with the United Kingdom leaving, and Denmark and the island of Malta not onboard). The 25 member states are: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Croatia, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Spain and Sweden.

The Pesco projects…

Apart from the entry requirements, the second pillar of PESCO is the projects. Participating member countries can initiate and co-finance projects aimed at strengthening the EU’s common defence capability. On 6 March this year, the Council formally adopted the first set of 17 different projects and the project members for each of them. In this first round, Sweden chose to join three of the projects: one on military mobility, one on how the EU’s training and education efforts could be made more effective and one on health care initiatives. All of them being wide projects that suited Sweden well.

A second round of another 17 PESCO projects was adopted by the Council on 20 November and which was hailed by the ministers in glowing terms. German Defence Minister, Ursula von der Leyen, for example, told reporters that the projects “are steps on the way to an army of Europeans”.

The 34 projects in the areas of capability development and in the operational dimension range from the establishment of a European Medical Command; an EU Training Mission Competence Centre; Cyber Rapid Response Teams; Mutual Assistance in Cyber Security; Military Disaster Relief or an upgrade of Maritime Surveillance; to the creation of a European Military Space Surveillance Awareness Network; a joint EU Intelligence School led by Greece and Cyprus; and a German-led proposal supported by Belgium, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, and Spain to share bases and other infrastructure within and beyond Europe.

One of them is a Swedish-French initiative to test and evaluate missiles, ammunition and other military equipment (Test & Evaluation, T&E). This will occur partly in France and partly at the Vidsel Test Range, located near Älvsbyn in northern Sweden, which is Europe’s largest overland test range. Slovakia and Spain will also participate in the project, and probably Finland as well. All in all, Sweden is participating in 4 of the 34 projects that the Swedish Defence Materiel Administration (Försvarets materielverk, FMV) and the Armed Forces have evaluated and selected. Peter Hultqvist said that it is also possible to step into ongoing projects and that Sweden could join more. Something which would be supported by the Alliance parties, which has criticised the government for having too low ambitions in terms of PESCO projects.

… And the issue of third country participation

PESCO stipulates that member states may invite other nations, so called, third countries, to take part in projects to which they can bring ͞substantial added value͟. However, these third countries do not have decision-making rights, which runs the risk of hampering any substantial cooperation with third countries in a field where flexible integration applies.

Sweden is fighting hard for companies from countries outside of the EU to participate in PESCO projects. This applies to countries like the United States, Great Britain and Norway.  “We see this as an extremely important issue,” the Minister for Defence, Peter Hultqvist (S) told reporters after the meeting of the EU Defence Ministers on 20 November. “We have an industry in Sweden, which is partly owned by American- and English interests. It is important that that type of industry can participate in different projects,” he continued. According to Hultqvist, the issue is also important from a security policy point of view, bearing on the transatlantic link and the important role of Britain. “Norway is also a country that is interesting in this context. This is a really important question as we see it, ” Hultqvist said.

But at the November meeting, defence ministers could not agree on the issue of third country participation. Negotiations now continue, and the aim is to have reached an agreement in time for the European Council on 13 December. A complicating factor is that the decision must be unanimous among all EU Member States.

But at the November meeting, defence ministers could not agree on the issue of third country participation. Negotiations now continue, and the aim is to have reached an agreement in time for the European Council on 13 December. A complicating factor is that the decision must be unanimous among all EU Member States.

EU Army discussion gaining momentum

In 1954, the attempt to create a European army through the European Defence Community (EDC) failed after the French Parliament refused to ratify a treaty that would have established a European Defence Community and joint military force comprised of West Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. Ever since, EU territorial defence was left to NATO and the US security umbrella. A consolidated defence policy has never really been up for discussion after that. But with Brexit, US President Donald Trump’s strong criticism of European countries for not spending enough on defence, and the changing geo-political environment, the discussion about a European army has gained new momentum. And when French President Emmanuel Macron last month toured the battlefields on the occasion of the centennial of the end of World War and observed that “peace in Europe is precarious,” and that “we will not protect Europeans unless we decide to have a true European army”[, the debate gained real momentum. Then

German Chancellor Angela Merkel endorsed the creation of an EU army to complement NATO. But, while countries such as France and Germany are keen to increase Europe’s strategic autonomy during a time of shifting global power, not everyone in the European Union is on board. Carl Bildt (M), Sweden’s former Prime- and Foreign Minister, wrote in an opinion piece that there is an emerging consensus on the need to restructure European defence: “The ostensible impetus is the growing threat from Russia, China, and the broader Middle East. But the uncomfortable reality is that renewed interest in military integration also reflects the erosion of Europe’s strategic position as a result of Brexit and, in some respects, Trump.” However, Bildt argued that for all the excitement over new proposals to establish a joint defence force, a true EU army remains a distant aspiration. “I expect that a French army – not a European one – will be marching down the Champs Elysée on Bastille Day for decades to come. But I also expect European countries to become more assertive in defence of their sovereignty, and to act collectively when it comes to security.”

When the EU Defence Ministers met on 19-20 November, an EU army and the EU’s relationship with NATO were explosive issues up for discussion. For those member states that have stood on the brakes, the main fear has been duplication of efforts with NATO. “The European Union is not and will not turn into a military alliance, we are a political union”, High Representative Federica Mogherini said at the press conference following the Foreign Affairs Council (Defence). The EU’s role is to raise the countries’ defence capabilities, which is also benefitting NATO. The EU is trying to ensure that inefficiency and fragmentation are avoided, according to Mogherini.

The Swedish government – and a large majority in the Riksdag – are positive to deepened EU defence cooperation, but stress that it must take place at inter-governmental level and be based on voluntary participation. With the security policy challenges EU faces, the Swedish government believes that enhanced cooperation is central to Sweden’s security. Sweden also want the money in the future EU defence fund to be able to benefit the Swedish defence industry.

According to the Swedish Minister for Defence, Peter Hultqvist (S), the Löfven administration views the defence and building defence forces as a national issue and not one for the European Union. After the November EU meeting, Hultqvist stated that the government has “no plans to support [the creation of an EU army] from the Swedish side.”[ His views are basically shared by the Moderate Party. The party’s spokesman for foreign policy issues, Hans Wallmark, is also doubtful about an EU army. He does, however, think that instead of just saying no and standing at the back of the room, Sweden should paint a picture of how the EU defence policy cooperation could change in order to influence developments. Wallmark’s vision for this is clear: “A very active European diplomatic and foreign service so that we share scenarios and information about the kind of threats that exist, that we also work on a project basis to increase our own abilities, including defence equipment, training and education.[2]

From a Swedish perspective, the rapid development of the EU’s security- and defence cooperation has beenrather overwhelming. For years, the Löfven administration has sent contradictory messages to Brussels and has been reluctant to deepen cooperation on security and defence. The Sweden Democrats and the Left Party are strongly opposed to an increased militarisation of the EU. And fear that PESCO will lead to supranational decisions and a common security- and defence union: “Anyone who does not see this as pointing in the direction towards a common security and defence union must be quite I, I think,” said Roger Richtoff (SD), during a parliamentary debate last year. The Swedish government instead prefers to underline the importance of the transatlantic link. Speaking to media on 20 November, Hultqvist said the current agreement between the EU and NATO should continue in the future: “You don’t need competing organisations dealing with the same thing,” he said and underlined that, for Sweden, this is a very important issue particularly as Sweden wants to maintain and further develop the transatlantic link to the United States. Earlier in the month, Löfven said that Sweden should have the best relationship possible with the United States; the transatlantic link is important both for Sweden and the EU and a key part of the Swedish- and EU strategies. “Sweden’s bilateral cooperation with the United States is also important. It is possible to have such cooperation and at the same time have different views on a number of issues. And we do, in particular, when it comes to standing up for multilateral cooperation, something we will always do,” Löfven said.[

The new EU strategy was followed by a series of initiatives and proposals from the major Member States – in particular Germany, France – and the EU Commission to strengthen cooperation within security- and defence policy.

In addition to PESCO, several other European defence initiatives are currently being developed. Perhaps most noticed is the French European Intervention Initiative (EI2) – a framework uniting countries with real defence capabilities and a willingness to use them – aimed at developing a common strategic culture. And importantly, EI2 is outside the EU’s structures, so it will allow for full UK involvement after Brexit. Finland and Denmark participate in EI2, while Sweden is hanging back pending government formation. “We have a process of preparation, but I do not think it is appropriate for a caretaker government to take a position, so this is something we will need to get back to at a later stage,” said Hultqvist. President Emmanuel Macron has also clearly stated that he would like Sweden and Norway to join in the cooperation. This puts some pressure on Sweden to act, and both the Moderates and Liberals have stated that they want to see a Swedish participation.


Much is happening at EU level in terms of security- and defence policies. All of that should lead to a more active political debate about Swedish interests and ambition in relation to the EU. There is certainly several potential political conflict lines, which could contribute to a healthy debate and action from the Swedish side. It is therefore unfortunate that Sweden is in political limbo as the country cannot afford to be standing on the side-lines as Europe forges ahead.

Note: This is a shortened version of the original article, which was published in the December 2018 edition of the Monthly Policy Review. Footnotes, infograms and graphs are only available in the subscriber version of this article.