9th Apr 2020

Barnier working group proposes EU defence-zone

The European Convention working group on defence has presented its preliminary draft report. The group, chaired by Commissioner Michel Barnier, presents the idea of a new hybrid of EU and national institutions to run European defence in the future. As some EU member states are non-aligned or neutral it is proposed to establish a new Euro defence-zone, similar to that of the Eurozone set up by the Maastricht Treaty where not all member states participate.

EU Commission without influence in defence

The Council, where EU ministers meet, would hold the power in relation to defence, according to the working group's draft report, seen by the EUobserver. The "High Representative", a post currently held by Javier Solana, would have the "right of initiative in crisis management matters." Practically this means the Convention group sided with those who are determined to keep defence member state issue – and outside the realms of the EU Commission.

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Chair of the working group Commissioner Michel Barnier did not succeed in getting the report to say that defence should be a competency of the Commission - something which his colleagues and in particular the external relations Commissioner Chris Patten would have favoured.

Hybrid of National and European competencies

For the funding of future European crisis management operations, the paper presents a hybrid of National and European competencies and scrutiny. For preparatory stages, a "relatively modest fund" should be set up based on member states’ contributions. National Parliaments would have the right to "exercise permanent scrutiny over their governments" and "in the majority of Member States the national parliament must approve the use of national forces in an operation," the paper says. The European Parliament would only be "duly informed .... on progress and decisions taken", suggests the paper, which means there would be no EU institution to control the defence expenditure.

Defence clause only for non-State entities

The Barnier-paper talks about assistance for "a Member State within its territory in dealing with the consequences of a possible attack." However, this is not exactly similar to article 5 in the NATO treaty, which states that an attack on one member is regarded as an attack on all. The Barnier paper explains that the clause "would apply only to threats from non-State entities" and mentions specifically the threat of terrorism and the use of weapons of mass destruction by terrorist groups. This threat demands a response which is far beyond military means, the Group stated.

Non-aligned member states to abstain

Eleven current EU Member states are members of NATO and are bound by the collective defence clause by virtue of Article 5 of the Washington Treaty. Four EU members, (Austria, Finland, Ireland and Sweden) are non-aligned countries while Denmark, as the only EU country, does not participate in the preparation or implementation of Union decisions and actions having defence implications, due to a Protocol annexed to the Treaty.

Euro-defence zone

To overcome these different positions, the Barnier-paper proposes the creation of a specific form of co-operation for a "Euro-defence zone" similar to the euro zone introduced with the Maastricht Treaty for the management of the single currency. Member states not wishing to participate in an operation would be encouraged not to oppose it but to abstain.

Finally the paper suggests that a mechanism for financing EU military capabilities could be fixing a proportion of GDP. Also a Council of Ministers of Defence is envisaged, "which would not, moreover, require any amendment of the Treaty", according to the paper.

The Convention's defence working group will meet for the last time on 10 December to finalise its position.


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