Today, the EU is facing numerous challenges and threats, with increased complexity and unpredictability in its security environment. Fragile states, the fight against terrorism, irregular migration flows, the crises in the Middle East – and of course the current COVID-19 pandemic – all represent challenges that require common solutions and collective action.
The basic values on which the EU is founded – democracy, respect for human rights, and the rule of law, as well as the rules-based international system – are being increasingly challenged in an era of geopolitical turbulence and degradation of the strategic environment. External crises have greatly expanded, they are closer to Europe, both at our eastern and southern borders, and are increasingly likely to have direct consequences for the EU and its citizens. To counter these threats, the EU must strive for a closer and more coherent community among its Member States, just as for a structured and coordinated partnership with other actors, such as NATO and OSCE.
The aim is to further strengthen security and defence mechanisms, as well as to establish tools for detection, prevention and defence against various threats in order to guarantee the security of our citizens. The EU has to be more united, effective, strong and strategic.
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s decision to transform the EU’s executive branch into a ‘Geopolitical Commission’ is a further step in the right direction. The EU needs to become a credible and effective global actor so that it can take on a responsible, tangible, proactive and prominent leadership role on the international stage and can unlock its political potential to think and act like a geopolitical power with a meaningful impact.
The reinforced Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) needed to be more coherent, including not only traditional “soft” power, but also a strong Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). In 2017 the Permanent Structured Cooperation on security and defence (PESCO) was therefore established to strengthen defence cooperation between Member States.
Twenty-five of the 27 EU Member States participate in PESCO, signatories to stronger, joint commitments to invest, plan, develop and operate defence capabilities better, together, within the EU framework. The objective is to arrive at a coherent set of defence capabilities available to Member States for national and multinational purposes, to enhance the EU’s capability as an international security actor, to contribute to the protection of EU citizens and to maximise the effectiveness of EU defence spending.
Subsequent to the legally binding commitments, 47 PESCO projects have been launched, in three successive waves, since 2018. They cover areas such as training, land, maritime, air and cyber warfare. Each project is taken forward by a fluid group of project members, under one or more Coordinators. An absolute guarantee of seamless interaction between PESCO and NATO initiatives, at national and multinational levels, is essential.
Collective security and defence of EU Member States, and their crisis-intervention capability abroad, depends entirely on their ability to move allied troops, civilian crisis management personnel, material and equipment across each other’s territory and outside the EU freely and rapidly. Military mobility is a concrete capability that is necessary to meet the EU’s specific security and defence needs, and one which forms part of the CSDP.
As analyses have shown, the height and weight limits of many road bridges are insufficient for certain military vehicles, and there is insufficient load capacity to move oversized military equipment by rail.
A substantial number of obstacles – physical, legal and regulatory – hinder military movements by imposing significant delays. This is a risk, especially in crises. Military exercises in Europe carried out under the auspices of NATO in recent years have shown the huge importance of suitable transport infrastructure for the success of military missions. In this regard, it is a good sign that military mobility has gained a substantial level of attention from all the relevant actors.
In March 2018, the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy presented a “Joint Communication to the European Parliament and the Council on the Action Plan on Military Mobility” (Action Plan), introducing a com-prehensive European approach to allow the swift movement of personnel and assets to where they are needed. It identifies tasks, responsibilities and time¬lines for improving military mobility in terms of legal aspects, customs and military requirements, and cross-border movement permission. The European Parliament adopted a resolution on military mobility in December 2018, underlining “that military mobility is a central strategic tool enabling the EU to pursue its security and defence interests effectively and in a complementary manner”. The Commission subsequently published a report on the implementation of the Action Plan, stating that tangible progress is being achieved.
Military Mobility is a PESCO project, aiming to address legal barriers and bureaucratic requirements, such as reducing the time to obtain diplomatic clearances. It is a binding commitment for PESCO members: Commitment No 12 requires the 25 Member States to simplify and standardise ‘cross border military transport in Europe for enabling rapid deployment of military material and personnel’.
Achieving an efficient military mobility policy will also strengthen the EU’s CSDP missions, given their international dimension and their peace-keeping objectives, by increasing synergies between defence needs. It will increase the EU’s capacity to respond to emergencies, and humanitarian missions and natural disaster responses within the EU will also benefit.
Effective military mobility requires the full involvement and commitment of all Member States and cooperation with NATO. Each Member State’s available resources, needs and regional specificities, as well as any requirements identified by EU-NATO cooperation, must be taken into consideration: the aim is to establish Military Mobility that works for both the EU and NATO.
In mid-2020 we are at an important stage for this project, as negotiations over the next EU long-term budget have reached a crucial point. The aim should be to fund Military Mobility via the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) in the next Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), making it possible to fund projects that pertain to dual use (civil and military) of the transport infrastructure. In its initial proposal the Commission allocated €6.5Bn to Military Mobility projects in the next MFF, but throughout the negotiations this number has dropped significantly. If we want the EU to become a credible global actor, we have to invest in the necessary instruments to achieve that goal. And we need to ensure that our instruments have the financial resources they need in order to fulfil our policies. Given the EU’s current security environment, the proposed cuts to the Military Mobility programme are not acceptable.
In the fields of defence, the fight against terrorism, and cybersecurity, the EU must be able to decide and act without depending on third parties. In building its own resilience and consolidating its strategic autonomy, Military Mobility is a cornerstone towards achieving a genuine European Defence Union.
We must develop our own strategic autonomy through an efficient foreign and defence policy, in order to maintain peace, prevent conflicts and reinforce international security – as the EU. The security of our citizens and of staff involved in CSDP missions must be guaranteed – particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our global interests have to be protected; our founding values have to be defended.
David McAllister is a German politician and member of the European Parliament.