If there was ever an indication of how the Lisbon Treaty fundamentally changed the relationship between the member states, it is in the field of EU Defence. Of course, defence remains ‘intergovernmental’ (though aspects of defence policy are increasingly affected by EU law, such as employment law and procurement.) Defence will become, like fiscal union, a driver of demand for renegotiation for a very simple reason. No single member state holds a veto over defence any longer.
In September, the foreign ministers of France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Poland wrote to EU high representative Baroness Ashton to urge her to set up an EU military headquarters. In a speech at the Conservative Party conference, the Foreign Secretary and the Defence Secretary said that the UK had ‘vetoed’ such a proposal. William Hague declared: ‘Our defence will always be anchored in our unbreakable alliance with the US and in the primacy of NATO, and that is why when others proposed an EU military headquarters this summer, on behalf of the UK I vetoed it.’ Liam Fox explained (and expect no change in tone with the new defence secretary): ‘Europe already has a guarantor of its defence – it’s called NATO. It is nonsense to duplicate and divert from NATO at a time when resources are scarce across Europe. And the last thing we need is more EU bureaucracy…’
Yet, as the EU foreign ministers’ letter suggests, such a veto may no longer exist. A group of EU states can establish an EU military HQ by the means of ‘Permanent Structured Cooperation’ (PSC) on defence policy in the Treaty of Lisbon. The Lisbon Treaty announced that this was ‘a new stage in the development of the European security and defence policy’.
Yes, participation in PSC is voluntary and decisions within PSC are by unanimity. However, if any member state is considered to be dragging its feet, it can ultimately be expelled from the arrangement, so no country can join just to veto everything. And Article 4 of the Lisbon Treaty obliges all member states to support the policies of the union and to ‘refrain from any action which jeopardises the objectives of the Union.’ Therefore, even outside the PSC, the ‘no’ state could obstruct or even object in any meaningful way to what was agreed by those within, so the ‘no’ state would have a veto over the policies or military operations agreed, which would be carried out in the name of the whole of the EU. So at Lisbon, the veto over EU defence policy was conceded.
As many of us forecast at the time Defence was introduced in the Maastricht Treaty, this is disastrous for the primacy of NATO. PSC creates the very circumstances for ‘the three Ds’ which Madeleine Albright first warned about when she was US Secretary of State: duplication of NATO capabilities; discrimination against non-EU members of NATO such as Norway and Turkey; and decoupling of European and US security policy.
I recall meeting the US Ambassador to NATO shortly after the St Malo Declaration of 1998, when Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac agreed that, ‘the Union must have the capacity for autonomous action, backed up by credible military forces, the means to decide to use them and a readiness to do so, in order to respond to international crises.’ He was mystified and angry that the EU should presume that Europe needed a new defence policy of its own, separate from NATO, with separate military staffs and the ‘double hatting’ of forces on standby for NATO, at a time when the US explicitly guarantees the security of European members of NATO, and underwrites the lion’s share of the military effort. I heard the US Ambassador to NATO ask: Why does the EU need to have a policy for defending European airspace, for example, when that is what NATO has done very successfully for the past 65 years?
After another decade of European complacency about defence, and now all-round cuts, the splits over Iraq, and the failure of most NATO countries to contribute anything substantial in Afghanistan, Washington is now highly ambivalent about NATO. The irony of course is that today the US is bearing an ever heavier share of the burden of European defence. Why should they bother with our security concerns when we Europeans seem to care so little about our own, let alone theirs. Surveying the failure of European states to contribute to their own defence, the outgoing US Defence Secretary Robert Gates warned of ‘a dim, if not dismal future for the transatlantic alliance’. An EU military headquarters being established at the same time as EU states are sharing less and less of the burden of NATO will make the future even more dismal.
An EU military arrangement which does not include the UK will be weak. The five states must be hoping that the UK will eventually participate in the military headquarters once it seems inevitable that it is going ahead. The pressure is on, but the UK will not commit. It just convinces more and more people in the UK that our present relationship with our European partners no longer serves the national interests.
The debate on a referendum in the House of Commons is a reflection of just such a concern. David Cameron and William Hague have made it clear they envisage renegotiation, though they currently feel constrained by coalition politics. As good Europeans, the UK will develop a new relationship, which we should offer as a template for new and existing members of the EU to adopt if they wish.