This is the second part of a two part article. You can read Part I here.

There are five main areas which the EU has been pursuing in order to establish what it calls an ‘EU Defence Union’ across the 28 EU countries, including the UK.

  1. Procurement policy and incentives
  2. Finance
  3. Intelligence, Battlegroups and PESCO
  4. UK defeat over HQ
  5. Contradicting statements over UK involvement.

Points 1-3 were covered in part one of this article.

  1. UK defeat over HQ

The UK has agreed to…

  • The reordering of EU agencies to include ‘permanent planning’ of EU defence missions and a ‘coordinated military command chain’.
  • The creation of a permanent military HQ with staff responsible for strategy and operations. It was kept as a non-executive function of the EU, but executive power over EU military developments rests with the EU Council and EU Commission.
  • Drop its objections to the wordings that describe the new HQ (May 2017) because previous approval in March 2017 had made later objections invalid.

The EU Council, with UK consent, has agreed to reorder the European External Action Service to “develop the necessary structures and capabilities for the permanent planning and conduct of CSDP missions and operations” with “distinct but coordinated civilian and military chains of command”.

These will work under the political control, strategy and leadership of the EU Council’s Political and Security Committee. (EU Council Conclusions, 14th November 2016, with UK ministerial approval. Confirmed by EU Council heads of government conclusions, 15th December 2016)

The plans include the creation of an operational HQ, the Military Planning and Conduct Capability (MPCC). While the UK made an issue of the MPCC being prevented from having executive powers, this was a pointless fight as the executive power over the MPCC’s deployments already resides with the EU Council. (EU Council Conclusions, 6th March 2017. Confirmed by EU Council conclusions, 18th May 2017)

 

  1. Contradicting statements over UK involvement.

The UK has agreed to…

Participate in measures that apply to UK defence without the approval of Parliament, nor even a debate.

Participate in developing plans until at least March 2019, possibly March 2022 or even longer.

Provide the EU with several new powers over UK defence and a new bargaining chip for the EU.

Accept measures that mean a more complicated and time-consuming withdrawal process that the UK didn’t face before the first of the EU Defence Union agreements in November 2016.

Provisional statements on PESCO (Permanent Structured Cooperation) while keeping open the prospect of UK participation in PESCO and the EU Council-controlled EU Battlegroups in 2019.

Each time new agreements are made; additional hours will need to be spent on severing EU ties and controls. New agreements are currently being formed in finance, intelligence, regulation, procurement strategy, joint assets, joint missions and research. This will impact upon several departments of government.

The duration of UK involvement might be expected to be until March 2019 (the anticipated end of Britain’s membership) and possibly March 2022 (end of a three-year transition deal which requires adherence to EU policy) and potentially even longer. Until then, even adhering to new EU measures (in finance, intelligence, regulation, procurement strategy, joint assets, joint missions and research) will add complexity to the UK’s exit negotiations, potentially extending the duration of the exit process.

Not a single one of these agreements at the EU Council has ever been mentioned in the House of Commons, let alone subject to a vote by MPs. All defence agreements at the EU Council take the UK further down the road of military integration and have had an immediate effect regarding UK participation. The EU Commission immediately embarked on a dialogue with UK defence companies about incentives to participate in EU defence integration projects.

EU Council conclusions are considered by the EU commission to have been co-authored by UK diplomats. Therefore, if a minister does not raise objection during an EU Council meeting, conclusions are considered to represent a joint direction, or consent, of all member states.

The EU Commission has stated that agreements the UK enters as a member state “must be carried out in full” while the UK remains subject to the EU’s treaties.

In addition, the EU has said it is not willing to even begin to discuss UK withdrawal from EU defence arrangements until a withdrawal agreement has been settled and “all other matters” agreed, because defence is “too important to be a part of the main negotiations”. This means the UK will be obliged to adhere to these rapidly developing measures for at least two years to 2019 and there is a real possibility of the UK being tied in for an additional transition period of three years up to 2022.

The Foreign Office minister Sir Alan Duncan wrote to the European Scrutiny Committee chairman in December 2016 to inform the committee of the plans and agreements the UK was entering, as is required under UK Parliamentary protocols. Sir Alan Duncan told the committee there were parts of the Security and Defence Implementation Plan (SDIP) which his team ‘liked’ and no decision had yet been made over the quantum of UK involvement and for how long. This may be contrasted with the Foreign Secretary’s October and November statements that the UK did not wish to prevent the EU27 from participating in agreements in which the UK had no interest itself in participating.

The European Scrutiny Committee marked Sir Alan Duncan’s letter and corresponding agreements as ‘politically important’ to have them discussed in the relevant Parliamentary Select Committees of Foreign Affairs, Defence and Exiting the EU.

Meanwhile, the EU Commission will know it may now employ all of the UK’s recent set of agreements in defence as a bargaining chip, a threat, a delaying tactic and a deepening ‘binding agent’ to EU membership. It is conceivable that EU officials will cite the example of UK defence companies who have the promise of European Defence Fund money as a means of influencing or undermining perceptions among UK observers or negotiators in the realm of defence.

Finally, an answer we received from the MOD (19th May 2016) said that the British government had not ruled out joining PESCO in spite of its control by EU Council and CSDP:

“Decisions on UK engagement with CSDP after we leave the EU, including with initiatives such as PESCO, will be part of the wider negotiations.”

A UK Rep spokesperson had earlier (18th May 2016) told us the UK might participate in the EU Battlegroups after Brexit, which is also controlled by the EU and CSDP.

 

 

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