Awakening of defence unity
European Council agrees to deepen efforts against foreign terrorist fighters and to better manage migration
Maria Koleva, Brussels
23 June, 2017
At their Summer European Summit in Brussels on 22-23 June, the presidents and prime ministers of Member States met to discuss an overcrowded agenda concerning cooperation on security and defence, including strengthening the fight again terrorism, but also managing migration, some foreign policy and economy issues, and the developments around Brexit. For the new French President Emmanuel Macron and the Irish taoiseach Leo Varadkar, it was the first participation at a European Council sitting.
Leaders agreed on setting up permanent European cooperation in defence and in three months period Member States will agree a common list of criteria and commitments, as well as concrete capability projects, so as this cooperation to be up and running. European Council President Donald Tusk said this is a “historic step” because such cooperation will allow the EU to move towards deeper integration in defence. Our aim is for it to be ambitious and inclusive, so every EU country is invited to join, he added.
The heads of state and government welcomed the Commission’s communication on a European Defence Fund, composed of a research window and a capability window, and are looking forward to its swift operationalisation. EC President Jean-Claude Juncker, who two years ago while presenting Commission’s 10 priorities labelled European defence cooperation the “sleeping princes of the Lisbon Treaty”, said to the media that “the princes is now awakening.” Over the last few months we put forward all the proposals which relate to ‘Europe of Defence’, he said noting that he is satisfied that all heads of state and government agreed on the Commission’s proposal of June for setting up a European Defence Fund. He advanced reasons for such a fund as in Europe there are 178 types of weapon systems, whereas in the US there are 30, in Europe there are 17 types of tanks and in the US there is one. We are spending half of the military budget of the US, but our efficiency is 15%, and 80% of research and 90% of the procurement is done on the exclusively national basis, Juncker argued drawing a conclusion that “there is room for improvement.” He also recalled that the EU defence policy, supposed to start in 1954, was proposed by him in 2014, and today agreed.
At the summit, EP President Antonio Tajani stated that the fund is also “prerequisite for the development of a common defence industry and market, with open procurement and genuine economies of scale.” Our forces must be able to work together, and if they are to do that, interoperability and joint standards are essential, Tajani opined, mentioning that the greater efficiency this would bring could save Member States up to €36bn per year.
A big accent during the meeting was put on the fight against terrorism, hatred and violent extremism. Against the backdrop of the appalling terrorist acts committed last months, the leaders pointed out their strengthened resolve to cooperate at EU level and to enhance the internal security. Presidents and prime ministers focused their attention on the need to accelerate the collective efforts to share knowledge on foreign terrorist fighters as well as home-grown radicalised individuals and to take forward policy and legal measures to manage the threat.
Concrete plans include fight against spreading radicalisation online, coordinating work on preventing and countering violent extremism and addressing the ideology. More efforts will be put to thwart the financing of terrorism, facilitate exchanges of information between law enforcement authorities and improve the interoperability between databases.
Naming terrorism “still a major threat”, President Tusk stated at a short press conference after the end of the first part of the meeting that “we are fully determined to protect our people.” We are calling on social media companies to do whatever is necessary to prevent the spreading of terrorist material on the internet, which in practice means developing new tools to detect and remove such materials automatically, he explained.
The European Council expects from companies to establish an Industry Forum and to develop new technology and tools to improve the automatic detection and removal of content that incites to terrorist acts. This should be complemented by the relevant legislative measures at an EU level, if necessary, the leaders said. They called as well for addressing the challenges posed by systems that allow terrorists to communicate in ways that authorities cannot access, including end-to-end encryption.