Paris: the new capital of defense Europe

(To Federico Castiglioni)
12/11/19

There is a specter that is around Europe in Defense. This spectrum, of which very little is known, except that it was evoked by Paris, is called European Intervention Initiative (EI2).

In Italy there has been little talk of this initiative, strongly desired by Macron as a token of the renewed Franco-German alliance, and when it was tried to analyze the question in more depth, the response from analysts was always negative. The same negativity was acknowledged by national politics, which in fact for a long time escaped the waltz to which Paris invited it: think of the hostility shown for example by two very different ministers, as were Elisabetta Trenta and Enzo Moavero in the previous Executive.

In the jungle of bilateral or variable geometry projects launched in recent years in the European defense sector (Pesco, European Defense Fund, V4, German-Czech mixed battalions and so on and so forth) it can indeed be difficult to understand why it is It was necessary to launch yet another collaboration in this field.

Moreover, the generic term "European", now present as a joker in every self-respecting Armed Forces acronym, certainly does not facilitate understanding of the subtleties behind each of the projects under study. We then begin to clear up the misunderstandings, saying that the European intervention initiative (EI2), unlike the aforementioned Enhanced cooperation (PESCO) and of Defense Fund (EDF), has no connection with the European Union, its structure or its bodies. From a certain point of view, on the contrary, it can be affirmed that the ambitious French project, born of the pragmatic genius of Emmanuel Macron at the Sorbonne, was born precisely to fill the gaps of those that, according to Paris, are the defects of the programs currently being studied in Brussels.

According to France, the original sins of the initiatives conducted by the European Union are linked to their very being Europeans , that is, characterized by a supranational dimension over which Paris has no control. Both PESCO and EDF, in fact, are initiatives that respond to logics and balances that find their point of fall in Brussels: enhanced cooperation, an intergovernmental tool in the hands of a triple secretariat composed of the European Defense Agency, External Action and EU Military Staff, is an expression of the collegial will of the 25 member states that funded it, while the European Defense Fund is a research and industrial program planned by the Parliament and structured by the Commission.

In both projects, France cannot, as things stand, exercise hegemony as it would like. As far as the European Fund is concerned, the reasons are mostly political and can be traced back to the not always idyllic relationship that Macron had had with the old Juncker Commission and to the bad start registered with the new Parliament (which 10 October rejected the Macron dolphin) , Sylvie Goulard).

For Pesco, however, it will not escape how all the main organs of the Permanent Secretariat created for this cooperation escape French control: the External Action, led by Federica Mogherini, will soon be under the control of the Spaniard Josep Borrell; the European Defense Agency, funded mainly by Germany, the United Kingdom and France, is in fact managed by another Spaniard, Ambassador Jorge Domecq; Finally, the responsibility of the European Military Staff lies with the Finnish general Esa Pulkkinen (while the European Union Military Committee is commanded by General Claudio Graziano)1. The centrality hoped for by Macron for his country within these already established frameworks is, from the control point of view, far from being realized.

On the other hand, the combined design of the two projects has already achieved what was most dear to the French, namely to create a closed and prosperous European market for companies involved in defense of the Alps, avoiding unpleasant situations such as that of Airbus in the 2017, when Poland canceled the order of 50 French helicopters by substituting them with American aircraft.

European funding for research and development, directed only towards continental companies, as well as interoperability requirements already in nuce in Peach, they should lay the groundwork for facts like these to no longer occur. This success achieves the wishes of Paris only halfway, and in particular leaves the whole side uncovered operating of the future European Defense, which is the other great pillar of all the projects that have been advanced by generations of French presidents, from De Gaulle to today.

Providing an operational leg to Pesco was Macron's great dream and the reason why he tried in many ways to direct its command and nature; a frustrated dream once again (as happens from around 20 years) by NATO. Even in a moment of great weakness of the Alliance, in fact, the European countries most closely linked to the USA, Germany and Italy in the first place, still have no qualms about breaking the 22 posts years ago by Madeleine Albright, who warned Europe not to create any "Duplicate" of NATO, on pain of loss of American coverage of the continent. This is one of the reasons, perhaps the main one, for which the European Union has never thought until now of a true operational dimension of the Common Defense: the only thing that is approaching it, at the moment, is the deployment of missions of peacekeeping conducted under the aegis of the European Council, and filtered by a fairly complex procedure that passes from a negotiation in COREPER.

As if that were not enough, this draft of the EU's operational profile is also there2 will soon be compromised by the absence of the United Kingdom, one of the main contributors to the Common Defense in both financial and strategic terms. And if Brexit will be painful for the whole of Europe, and not only in the Defense sector, the approach of that deadline is particularly worrying for France, which from Saint-Malo has always considered the United Kingdom the fundamental interlocutor in all security issues. This is not surprising, considering that the London government is the only one, apart from that of Paris, to have a clearly recognizable international identity in the old continent, as well as to boast a fairly high profile on a strictly military level.

After having outlined this picture, perhaps we finally understand why, in the forest of incomprehensible acronyms, the EI2 represents a substantial novelty among the European defense projects, but also because, outside of the classical Byzantinisms of the Community policy, this initiative has been looked at immediately with distrust. In fact, the undisguised purpose of EI2 appears to be to operate at the operational level in the scenarios (especially in Africa) most dear to the French, without going through the cluttered institutions that have their headquarters in Brussels: NATO and the European Union. At the same time the project seems, at least in this embryonic state, to have been thought of as a great one HUB that as a real alliance: under this hat you can conduct different programs and initiatives that involve the European nations most interested in acting incisively in third theaters.

La European Intervention Initiative, built on a voluntary basis, without centralized structures, and without any constraint neither of assistance nor of mutual aid, therefore it will not have to submit to the rigid stakes that the EU has built over time to limit its international weight, but even more will not have to request assistance from Washington through the political scrutiny of the White House; something that the French presidents of the Fifth Republic have never really digested.

It is clear that this instrument, if it is actually managed only by Paris, cannot claim to represent a truly "European" spirit, and that is why Germany has only reluctantly joined and Italy joined the other 13 signatories only in September, mostly to demonstrate to Macron that the new Conte government, purged by Salvini's presence, could be a good interlocutor for Paris3.

Support for the initiative, however, is not without its risks, and if it is true, as some Italian generals have said recently, that the scope of the project could become such as to be dangerous to stay out of it, it is equally legitimate to ask what will remain of the ambitions of the European Union in the field of Defense (including those of the current Commission) if the EI2 were transformed into a "disposable" tool at the mercy of the most enterprising Member States.

The worrying interviews of Macron these days that call NATO "celebrally dead", and the half-hearted exit of several American officials and numerous commentators from across the Atlantic (think of the Washington Post) that give him reason, do nothing but to confirm a reality of immense scope, with which we may have to deal quickly.

The Atlantic Alliance, the main defensive and then offensive instrument that has tied Europe to the United States for decades, is in an identity and political crisis. The European Union, at the same time, seems to have self-limited in its ambitions in matters of foreign policy and defense, and despite good intentions it still manages to do little in this sector. With the exit of Britain at the gates, even that little could soon be put at risk.

The EI2 is a pragmatic and immediate alternative offered by France to its allies to intervene in an increasingly turbulent and agitated world that presses on our borders, endangering our security and our interests.

Unfortunately this initiative, not so distant in some ways from a "light" version of the Fouchet plan, it also has the disadvantage of taking little account of the geostrategic needs of the other partners, with the risk that this entire mechanism becomes a cog in motion only at the service of French interests in the world.

The financial, economic and political weakness of Germany, Italy and Spain, which are going through a period of internal crisis for different reasons, certainly facilitates Macron's plans and prevents others from thinking of any valid alternative.

If NATO has really arrived at the end of the line, moreover, time passes quickly to find a substitute for it that is not only inclusive, respectful of international law and so on, but that also knows how to take courageous decisions and launch risky operations. If the EU is not up to the task, EI2 could become our only alternative tomorrow.

1 Even though all three organizations are formally under the responsibility of the High Representative, the executive control of the institutions and not just their official chain of command has been taken into consideration here.

2 A profile that has materialized so far mainly in training and support missions, think of "EUTM RCA" in the Central African Republic, strongly desired by France.

3 To remember the diplomatic crisis with few precedents between Italy and France, which took place just after the establishment of the Italian government last year.

Photo: presidency of the ministers' rabbit / Ministère de la Défense / US Army