19th Mar 2018

Finland calls for 'pragmatic' EU defence

  • Finnish soldiers on exercise: Finland is not a member of Nato (Photo: Finnish army)

Finland’s “pragmatic” blueprint for EU defence goes less far than Italian or French “visions”, while quietly designating Russia as a threat.

Helsinki said in an informal paper, seen by EUobserver, that the EU should draw up a plan for joint military capabilities because it has a “need for strategic autonomy”.

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  • The Finnish paper mentioned Russian-type "hybrid" warfare as a threat to Europe (Photo: stopherjones)

It described Europe as “a comprehensive security actor” alongside Nato, while adding that EU member states “should reiterate … [their] commitment to mutual assistance and solidarity” in times of crisis.

It said the objectives of EU defence integration should be “protecting Europe, managing crises and supporting partners” as well as “deterring against and responding to external threats”.

It said some of the new EU capabilities should target “hybrid threats”, referring to foreign states’ covert military operations, as well as economic, cyber, and information warfare.

The Finnish paper was circulated last week ahead of an EU defence ministers’ meeting in Bratislava on Tuesday (27 September).

Italy, as well as France and Germany, have also circulated ideas papers seen by this website.

Finnish pragmatism

The Italian proposal, billed as a political response to Brexit, said the EU should create its own “permanent” military force and military HQ.

The Franco-German proposal said the EU should have its own military HQ, but that this should command the kind of short-term overseas crisis missions that already exist today.

The Finnish paper goes less far than either of them, saying only that the EU should create a new “joint permanent civilian-military planning and conduct capability” that could, in future “take responsibility over … non-executive military operations”.

The Italian paper spoke of a new “political vision” on EU defence.

But Finland said that: “Following the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the EU, it is of utmost importance to establish a pragmatic partnership in security and defence”.

Like its EU peers, Finland said there should be more joint EU spending on military capabilities, for instance on battlegroups and on R&D.

Battlegroups are battalion-sized forces created by subsets of EU states, but they have never been deployed, in part, because capitals did not want to pay for operations.

“We should aim at normalisation of defence, making it possible for it to benefit from … Union policies like any other sector”, Finland said.

Unlike, Italy, France and Germany, Finland is not a member of Nato.

It also has the longest land border with Russia of any EU country and has been a target of Russian sabre-rattling over its ever-closer ties with the Nato alliance and with the US military.

The Italian, French and German ideas focused on EU crisis operations in Africa and the Middle East.

The Finnish paper did not name Russia, but Helsinki’s accent on EU “mutual assistance” and on “deterring … external threats” indicated that it sees EU military cooperation as a prophylactic against potential Russian aggression.

The EU treaty has a clause on mutual security assistance, which was invoked by France after last year’s terrorist attack in Paris, but which falls short of Nato obligations on mutual defence.

Russia subtext

Finland’s focus on “hybrid threats”, mentioned three times in its informal paper, also nods to Russia, which recently shocked Europe by its hybrid attack on Ukraine.

Aside from member states’ input into the Bratislava talks, the EU foreign service, or EEAS, has also circulated what one EU source called a “questionnaire/issues paper to structure the defence ministers’ discussion”.

The source said the EU foreign service paper focused on three topics - “crisis management, partners' capacity building, and protection of Europe”.

France and Germany have indicated that they wanted to move quickly on joint projects, with some ideas to be implemented in 2017 or 2018.

The source indicated that the EEAS is also moving quickly.

The EU contact said that the EU institution expected member states to file their answers to its questionnaire on future EU defence in early October.

But the source said the EEAS is still trying to “sense the mood in the [EU] capitals” on how far to go on military integration rather than proposing concrete projects at this stage.

Italy lays out 'vision' of EU army

Italy has laid out plans for the creation of a “European force” that goes beyond Franco-German proposals on defence integration.

EU joint defence to focus on south

France and Germany propose leap forward on EU defence, but ideas are far from being an "EU army", and target African crises instead of Russia.

UK to veto EU 'defence union'

Reacting to Bratislava talks, Britain has said it would veto the creation of EU military capabilities so long as it remained a member of Europe.

US backs Europe on Russia deterrent

US defence chief James Mattis has praised European efforts to jointly deter Russian aggression, amid talks on EU military integration.


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