In March 2017 the European Commission produced a white paper on the future of European Defence, which outlined what the European Commission saw as possible scenarios for the future of EU defence. This document made it clear that as far as the Commission is concerned defence is now an EU competence to be decided in Brussels not at by national governments.
Something that the Irish government has been happy to support, in the two years since the Commission published its white paper the government has rushed Ireland headfirst into the emerging EU military union. This is despite there being no requirement for Ireland to be involved in any aspect of the emerging EU Defence Union. Despite the government's enthusiastic support for EU military integration under the auspice of the ‘defence union’ they have not been interested in publicly defending their support for the militarisation of the EU.
When Irish participation in the EU’s new military alliance, PESCO, was briefly debated in the Dáil the government purposely misinformed people about what the political intention behind PESCO is. It is clear that PESCO is seen as the first step in creating the Common defence envisioned in the Lisbon treaty, Commission president Jean Claude Juncker said as much when he triumphantly pronounced that ‘the sleeping beauty of Lisbon is awake’ in response to the launch of PESCO. The EU’s website states that PESCO requires participating states to make binding commitments to ‘invest, place, develop, and operate defence capabilities’ together.
Despite the EU being clear that PESCO is about creating an EU military union, the Irish government still saw no need for a serious debate on Irish involvement. When pushed on the appropriateness of Irish involvement in this new military alliance Leo Varadkar stated that PESCO had been agreed to when people voted for the Lisbon treaty. Making it clear that Fine Gael have no interest in protecting Ireland’s neutrality and opt out from the EU common defence provisions included in the Lisbon Treaty.
PESCO means that member states national defence budgets and spending decisions are subject to oversight by the European Defence Agency, this means that increased defence spending in Ireland will be designed to serve European interests not addressing pay and conditions in the defence forces. More worryingly the emergence of PESCO, and the calls from several European leaders for further European military projects makes it clear that neutral member states such as Ireland need to act now or risk losing their ability to be truly neutral in future conflicts involving EU NATO members such as France and Germany. We have already seen the expansion of EU military missions, particularly in North Africa, various PESCO projects have been announced with the intended aim of developing the necessary military capabilities to allow the EU to directly intervene in conflicts such as Libya and Syria.
The equipment and military structures developed through PESCO will belong to the member states and will be available for use in any military mission that member state is involved in. This means that Irish involvement in PESCO projects will contribute to the development of military technology for the use of large militaristic member states such as France for use in their ill thought out military interventions in their former African colonies.
If Ireland continues to fully participate in PESCO not only will we be serving the military needs of other member states, we will find ourselves in a defence union with an EU army in all but name, as PESCO projects focused on sharing military bases between member states and military mobility show what the true intention behind PESCO is. It is clear that itis about creating a ‘European Defence Union’ with EU oversight of national defence spending and broder military policy.
Ireland need not be part of this emerging defence union, participation in PESCO is not required, Malta, the UK, and Denmark, all chose to not participate for their own specific reasons. Likewise, Ireland can and should do the same and leave PESCO. Indeed up until Fine Gaels announcement that they were willing to sign Ireland up to EU military projects it was assumed by those responsible for creating PESCO that Ireland would not be involved due to our tradition of military neutrality.
Fine Gaels track record in government and the vote record of their MEPs shows that they cannot be relied upon to defend Irish neutrality, over the past two years they have openly questioned Ireland's policy of neutrality and supported the militarisation of the EU. Sinn Fein MEPs have consistently criticised both the EU and the Irish government for its failure to defend both Irish neutrality and Irish sovereignty in the area of defence policy. PESCO does undermine both Irish neutrality by aligning Ireland militarily with EU NATO members and committing Ireland to military projects designed with the needs of NATO and large member states in mind, and Irish sovereignty by giving the EU the ability to direct spending priorities in the area of defence.