European Union Members Sign a Defense Pact

EU Foreign Affairs Ministers Council, Brussels, Belgium - 13 Nov 2017 (Photo by EMMANUEL DUNAND/POOL/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

Most of the European Union members signed the permanent structured military co-operation (“Pesco”) plan to boost their defense budgets and joint capabilities. The shift in policy comes after the administration of US President Donald Trump sent mixed messages about support to NATO.

“It’s going to be quite a historic day for European defense,” EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told reporters before the meeting in Brussels at which ministers approved the plan.

First proposed in the 1950s and long resisted by Britain, European defense planning, operations and weapons development now stands its best chance in years as London steps aside and the United States pushes Europe to pay more for its security.

Gabriel: Agreement on future defense cooperation

Foreign and defense ministers gathered at a signing ceremony in Brussels to represent 23 EU governments joining the pact, paving the way for EU leaders to sign it in December.

Those governments will for the first time legally bind themselves into joint projects as well as pledging to increase defense spending and contribute to rapid deployments.

 “Today we are taking a historic step,” Germany’s Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel told reporters. “We are agreeing on the future cooperation on security and defense issues, it’s really a milestone in European development,” he said.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian called the pact a very important step, recalling that there was little enthusiasm when it was first mooted. But, he said, the Union must go further in cooperation.

The pact includes all EU governments except Britain, which is leaving the bloc, Denmark, which has opted out of defense matters, Ireland, Portugal and Malta. The countries which did not sign the initiative can join on a later date. Traditionally neutral Austria was a late addition to the pact.

NATO approved initiative

Its backers say that if successful, the formal club of 23 members will give the European Union a more coherent role in tackling international crises and end the kind of shortcomings seen in Libya in 2011, when European allies relied on the United States for air power and munitions.

Unlike past attempts, the U.S.-led NATO alliance backs the project, aiming to benefit from stronger militaries.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg welcomed the launch, saying that he saw it as an opportunity to “strengthen the European pillar within NATO.” Stoltenberg had previously urged European nations to increase their military budget, DW writes.

The club will be backed by a 5-billion-euro defense fund for buying weapons, a special fund to finance operations and money from the EU’s common budget for defense research.

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