EU Defence: the realisation of Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO)

House of Commons LibraryPublished Tuesday, December 12, 2017

On 13 November 2017, 23 EU Member States submitted a Joint Notification to the EU Council of Ministers setting out their intention to utilise the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) mechanism to further European defence (CSDP). Ireland and Portugal notified the Council of Ministers of their intention to join in early December and a Decision formally launching PESCO was adopted on 11 December 2017. The first capability projects are expected to be launched in early 2018. The UK did not sign the Joint Notification and will, therefore, remain outside of PESCO. In doing so, the UK will have no decision making rights over its governance or veto over its future strategic direction.

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At a meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council (including Defence) on 13 November 2017, Ministers from 23 EU Member States signed a Joint Notification on Permanent Structured Cooperation. The first formal step in establishing PESCO, that notification set out the principles of PESCO, the list of commitments that participating Member States have agreed to undertake and proposals on PESCO governance and the overall ambition for the project.

A Decision formally establishing PESCO was adopted by the Council of Ministers on 11 December 2017. Participating states also adopted a Declaration outlining the initial capability projects to be pursued under the remit of PESCO.

Basics of PESCO

  • Participation in PESCO will be voluntary and decision-making within the PESCO mechanism will only be taken by participating states. Those EU states which do not participate in PESCO will have no decision making rights and no veto over its future strategic direction.
  • PESCO will have a two-layered structure. The Council of Ministers will be responsible for the overall policy direction and assessment mechanism to determine if Member States are fulfilling their commitments. Each project will be managed by those Member States which contribute to it.
  • The PESCO Secretariat will be provided through existing CSDP structures, primarily the EU External Action Service, including the EU Military Staff, and the European Defence Agency. Any administrative expenditure will be charged to the EU budget.
  • As a treaty-based mechanism any commitments undertaken by participating states will be legally binding. National implementation plans will be subject to regular assessment by the Council of Ministers.
  • Any participating State will be able to propose projects to the PESCO Secretariat. With regard to capability development, the EDA will ensure that there is no duplication with existing initiatives in other institutions, such as NATO. The EU High Representative will make recommendations to the Council of Ministers on those projects which contribute to the EU’s ‘Level of Ambition’ and are best suited to furthering Europe’s ‘strategic autonomy’. The Council (only participating PESCO states) will then decide, by unanimity, on the list of PESCO capability projects.
  • Third party states may be invited to participate in specific PESCO projects, where it is demonstrated that they bring “substantial added value”. Those states will not, however, have any decision making rights.
  • Capabilities developed through the PESCO mechanism will remain under national control. They will not be “EU” assets and will not form the basis of an “EU Army”. States will be able to make those capabilities available through other frameworks such as NATO and the UN.

Next steps

Further work on the initial list of projects will now be undertaken, including possible timelines, ahead of a formal Decision on the projects to be developed under PESCO in early 2018.

The conditions under which third party states could also be invited to participate in individual projects is also expected to be formalised by the Council of Ministers in 2018.

Position of the UK

The UK Government did not sign the Join Notification on 13 November 2017. As such it will remain outside of PESCO. In doing so the UK will have no decision making rights over PESCO governance or any veto over the future strategic direction of PESCO, which has been openly acknowledged as greater EU integration in the field of defence.

The Government has indicated its preference for third party participation in mutually beneficial projects, although it will be for the participating EU Member States to determine the scope of such participation.


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