France dominant in new flurry of EU military projects

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Soldiers of the French “Commandos Marine” | Ludovic Marin/AFP via Getty Images

Defense pact unveils latest plans, week after Macron’s blunt criticism of NATO.

EU countries on Tuesday approved 13 new projects under their fledgling military pact, with a prominent role for France reflecting President Emmanuel Macron’s desire to boost European defense cooperation.

The projects got the green light from defense ministers from the 25 countries involved in the EU’s Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) pact, which was established in December 2017. The latest batch takes the total number of PESCO projects to 47.

Ministers signed off on the new projects the week after Macron declared NATO to be suffering “brain death” and urged the EU to become more autonomous when it comes to security and defense.

“The idea of European defense is gradually taking hold. It’s the aggiornamento for a powerful and strategic Europe,” Macron told the Economist.

Of the 13 new PESCO projects, Paris has a role in 10 and takes the lead in three of them. Germany, by contrast, is taking part in only two of the projects and leads in one. Spain is taking part in seven of the new projects, Italy in four and Poland in two.

Despite the grand-sounding ideas, diplomats cautioned that the quality of some proposed projects was not high.

Five of the new projects are focused on training facilities while four are focused on helping forces to deploy and operate — so-called enablers. Two are focused on maritime capabilities, one is an air system project and another relates to cyber coordination.

France is playing a big role especially in the “enablers.” It’s involved in all four of the new projects and is the leading country in three of them.

Having launched nearly 50 projects in less than two years, EU officials now face the challenge of keeping track of them all and deciding which have the best chances of becoming operational.

Federica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign and security policy chief, said it was too early to say what the failure rate of the projects will be.

“As of next year there will be a pause in the adoption of new projects, so these 47 projects will be all for now … these next two years will be dedicated full speed on implementation, exactly because the test will be on delivery and implementation,” she told reporters.

One of “enablers” that France is leading is a project on “EU Collaborative Warfare Capabilities,” whose goal is “to increase the ability of the armed forces within the EU to face collectively and efficiently the upcoming threats.”

Among the most tangible projects, there’s a “European Patrol Corvette” (EPC) — France and Italy want to design and develop what they describe as “a prototype for a new class of military ship.”

However, despite the grand-sounding ideas, diplomats cautioned that the quality of some proposed projects was not high.

“Some of the projects presented were not mature yet and should have not been in the list,” one senior diplomat said.

Another senior diplomat said PESCO could not be seen so far as an alternative to NATO but more as “a learning curve, a project that has left the station and thereby is going to stay with us, but where we’re still only in the learning phase.”

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