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The EU threats to our defence sovereignty are back


PERMANENT Structured Cooperation (PESCO) is just one pillar that supports the EU ambitions to take control of a European Defence Union that gives effect to the EU’s Global Strategy on Foreign and Security policy.

Had the original 2018 May Government’s exit and future partnership deals with the EU gone through it would have had the effect of entangling and subverting the UK’s defence policy and future actions to accord with these EU defence ambitions. It would have been another dramatic negotiation loss to add to Northern Ireland and Fisheries.

The Boris Johnson team understood that attached to PESCO and the other EU Defence pillars were unacceptable institutional arrangements that would be an EU ‘thin end of the wedge’. Defence was taken off the negotiating table and it did not feature in the future partnership arrangements. The Boris Johnson Government ruled out PESCO participation and put the UK’s sovereignty and control over its own defence in a better position.

However recent developments are proving that the reprieve was only temporary. The salami-slicing began with a flurry of bi-lateral agreements the UK has made with individual EU member states (see diagram’s left hand pillar). Italy, Belgium, Estonia and Latvia on protection of classified documentation (EU Third State participation no. 9). The French on carrier and nuclear operations. The German (June 2021) joint declaration required UK commitment to support NATO cooperation with the EU’s emerging Defence ambitions. In November 2021 the UK agreed to co-operate in the EU’s European Defence Fund. As the UK defence industry signs up to EU-controlled defence projects it will transfer the UK’s defence know-how and secrets into the next generation of weaponry. The UK rights over that new generation of weaponry is also transferred to the EU (see below, no 6). In July 2022 the UK applied to join the PESCO Military Mobility project, showing a willingness to commit to the onerous obligations set out by the EU’s Third State terms.

All this entanglement surrenders UK sovereignty over defence to the EU’s defence ambitions by the onerous political and legal obligations the EU has set out in its Third State participation. A Third State has to effectively pledge an oath of allegiance and subrogate itself to EU primacy over defence and security. Our MPs have only to refer to their House of Commons Library Briefing Paper No 9058 written by Claire Mills dated November 21, 2022 to understand how onerous these nine obligations are:

1. A third state must share the values on which the EU is founded.

2. It must not contravene the security and defence interests of the EU and its member states.

3. A state must have a political dialogue with the EU, which covers defence and security aspects when it participates in a PESCO project.

4. A state must provide substantial added value to a project, for example technical expertise or additional capabilities, including operational or financial support, thus contributing to the success of the project, and the overall advancement of PESCO.

5. Participation must contribute to strengthening CSDP and the EU’s level of ambition with respect to CSDP operations.

6. Participation must not lead to a dependency on a third state or allow that third state to impose restrictions on the use of developed capabilities. As Jane’s Defence Weekly succinctly noted, ‘in other words the PESCO consortium will retain full control of all the project’s intellectual property’.

7. An agreement must be reached on sharing any capabilities or technology developed within a specific project, outside of the PESCO framework. This is to prevent such capabilities being used against the EU and its member states in the future.

8. Participation must be consistent with the 20 binding defence commitments that PESCO member states have signed up to, including defence spending targets and harmonisation of capability requirements.

9. A third state must have an agreement in place to exchange classified information with the EU and an administrative agreement with the European Defence Agency.

Informed sources know that the UK civil service message has remained unchanged since 2017, to push UK’s participation (I say surrender) in EU-led defence arrangements. Civil servants have influenced defence businesses operating in the UK, with unparalleled access to our elected ministers, to urge joining in with the EU PESCO projects and thereby accept the onerous Third State participation obligations.

The UK’s current negotiations with the EU on PESCO are shockingly opaque. Those negotiations are in the hands of the same team of UK civil servants who tried from 2016 to 2019 to lock us into EU military programmes in contradiction of the UK’s vote to leave the EU and to take back UK sovereignty over all our affairs, especially defence.

Our negotiators appear to totally ignore the risks posed to UK sovereignty. Government officials recite lines about Norway and the US being involved in EU PESCO without a hint of irony – they seem blissfully unaware of the stark difference between the Norwegian and American positions and levels of political attachment. Norway has surrendered to EU policy, the country even pays a financial contribution to EU defence. Norway chose to be under EU Common Security and Defence Policy and the EU’s directives on Defence procurement which narrow the scope of domestic procurement (which incidentally the UK has foolishly kept). Additionally Norway is also committed, via a series of administrative agreements, to the rules and benchmarks of the European Defence Agency and European Defence Fund.

It seems very unlikely that the US would agree to all of the EU’s Third State rules. Although the US initially said an agreement was nowhere in sight, the EU announced that they accepted the US as PESCO partners under their Third State rules. But the precise terms of the US agreement are being kept secret. At a stroke the EU has driven a wedge between the UK and our longstanding Nato allies the US and undermined that ‘US/UK special relationship’. The secrecy was widely predicted by UK Eurosceptics as a means of bouncing and entrapping the UK into the much deeper EU onerous terms.

So the risks to our sovereignty over defence are back.Our MPs should all read the HoC Briefing paper 9058 and understand the ‘surrender’ required to the terms dictated by the EU. They should insist on transparency and see the full terms the EU has offered the US for joining the EU’s PESCO. Our rights over the next generation of weaponry developed from UK know-how and on how we might wish in future to use them must be protected. We should never undertake to blindly accept unknown future diktats issued by a foreign constitution.

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David Card
David Card
David Card is a retired RAF aircrew officer and editor of UK Defence Matters.

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