(Update) What chances for a real European Common Security and Defense Policy?

Note: this analysis, originally published in September, was updated to take into account the latest developments up to 17 November 2016.

Last evening, Doru Frantescu, the Director& cofounder of VoteWatch Europe, delivered an insightful presentation at an event hosted by the Union of European Federalists, where he analysed the chances of building a real European Defense Union.  On this occasion, he shed light on the actual level of political will behind the project, mapping the positions of all political forces across the Union. There is a lot of information put forward in the public arena these days, but there are also many misconceptions and misunderstandings. Our study digs deep into the voting records of political parties and individual politicians and shows who can the project count on at the moment and who is still to be convinced, if at all. Its main findings are presented below.

doru_european federalists

Over the past few weeks, calls for more integration and coordination in EU Defense policy were raised from several powerhouses. The election of Donald Trump as US President is likely to trigger a shift of paradigm in how the Americans see the defense of Europe, ie. the message being that Europeans should prepare to rely more on themselves. Along with Brexit, this new development seems to be spurring momentum for going forward with defense integration plans, which have been stalled for decades. 

But what are the real chances of this project? We have measured the level of support among the political forces across the EU and the balance of power between proponents and opponents. 

To do so, we used the votes of the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) drawing on the fact that the EP gathers representatives of all relevant parties coming from both government and opposition across the 28 EU Member States (the analysis is based on actual votes cast recently in the European Parliament (on the report 2015/2272(INI)). Notably, MEPs are free to vote according to their real views, as they are not constraint by the need to support their government’s position, which provides us with a more accurate picture of their actual thinking.

Our mapping of politicians’ views shows that there is a strong majority among the continental Europeans in favour of defense integration. Main parties in Germany, Italy, Spain and France support the plan. Similarly, there is a high level of enthusiasm in Eastern Europe, especially among the Baltics and the Romanians. 

However, the picture looks differently in Northern Europe: most of the parties from all the Northern Member States (plus Austria) oppose the establishment of Permanent Military Headquarters of the EU. These countries are either neutral states (non-NATO), such as Sweden, Finland, or have a historical tradition of neutrality, such as Denmark and the Netherlands.

Our report also shows that there are different degrees of opposition to the key aspects of the Defense Union. For example, the establishment of Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) is less controversial than the permanent EU military headquarters. More precisely, most political elites from Sweden, the Netherlands and Austria would back PESCO, but not the Military HQ, as the infographics below show: 

PJ15 Defence Integration 07.16 Permanent Headquarters

PJ15 Defence Integration 07.16 PESCO

Large support for the Permanent Defense Headquarters across the largest EU Member States, but it faces considerable opposition from fringe parties

The MEPs coming from Germany, Italy, and Spain all demonstrated high levels of support for the establishment of a Permanent EU Headquarters in these countries.

In fact, Italy took the hardest stance on defense integration with a plan extending past the scope of Germany and France’s proposal. Unlike Paris and Berlin, Rome has suggested that there should be a permanent military force in addition to the permanent military headquarters. However, the Italian proposal seems to go too far to be accepted by the more skeptical Member States. Additionally, although the Italian parties sitting within the ranks of Renzi’s Democratic Party (S&D) and Forza Italia (EPP) are supporting more EU integration in defense policy, notable opposition comes from the Eurosceptic 5 Star Movement (EFDD) who is on the rise (has recently won elections in the capital Rome) and challenges Renzi’s governing position.

In France, while the government is one of the main supporters of the defense union, it faces some opposition at home. In fact, support for the Defense Union among the French comes from the moderate French parties (namely the Socialist Party of president Hollande, the Republicans of Sarkozy and the smaller centrist parties), whereas Marine Le Pen’s rising National Front, the Greens and far left parties reject the idea of integrated defense (and voted against the defense headquarters).

Instead, in the German case, the Greens supported the initiative, although not everybody is enthusiastic about this project on the left side of German political spectrum. In addition to the opposition of The Left (GUE-NGL), quite a few MEPs from SPD (S&D) decided to abstain (at the beginning of the year they were outright opposed). On the opposite side, the rising Alternative for Germany (ENF – EFDD) is also rather hostile to this new project.

Central and Eastern European MEPs are the Firmest Supporters of More Integration in Defense Matter

Notably, former Russian satellite states in Eastern Europe strongly support the creation of the Permanent Defense Headquarters. Overall, Romanian politicians are the most supportive of the defense integration (judged by the behavior of their MEPs). Romania currently has a president with German ethnic background and a prime minister seen as France-friendly, which showcases (and may contribute to) the orientations of this second largest Eastern European EU member state.

The case of Poland is, however, remarkable: the Polish Conservative MEPs of Law and Justice voted against the proposal for a Defense Union, which is in stark contrast with the recent statements made by the Polish government. This may indicate that the policy orientations of the Polish government are fluctuating due to internal disagreements and are yet to be clearly defined.

Estonia and Latvia are geographically vulnerable to perceived Russian aggressiveness, which explains their unconditioned support for the new establishment. 71% of Latvian MEPs favor the creation of the headquarters, as well as 80% of Estonian MEPs.

The UK is the main obstacle towards the establishment of Permanent Military Headquarters

Further integration of European defense will rely on both the British Isles and the neutral member states. Following the referendum in June 2016 and the decision to leave the European Union (Brexit), the UK – a keen supporter of the ‘less is more’ approach, could soon become the first country to leave the EU. From the perspective of the CSDP project however, Brexit is actually a positive development, as the UK is known to be one of the main ‘breakers’ to the further development of the project and in general to a deeper integration of the EU.

The British are so adamant in their opposition to EU defense integration that from the entire British EP delegation, only the one MEP from the LibDem supported the initiative, whereas all the other MEPs were either unenthusiastic or outright hostile.

The Neutral Countries are in opposition to the Defense Headquarters

As shown by our mapping, there is still further opposition to this initiative across Europe. In particular, neutral countries are not, for the time being, enthusiastic about these new projects. However, there is a clear difference between the views of center-right wing parties from neutral countries and the ones of center-left wing parties.

In fact, in the EPP the support for the establishment of Permanent EU Headquarters is particularly high, even among the Maltese, Austrian, Finnish and Swedish MEPs.  The members of the Irish party currently in government, Fine Gael (EPP), are the only exception, although Ireland is a quite special case, given that none Irish MEP supported the initiative.

Higher is the opposition among neutral countries’ MEPs in S&D: the Austrian S&Ds abstained from voting on the formation of a permanent defense headquarters for the EU, whereas the Swedish Social Democrats even rejected the proposition.

Sweden’s neighbor, Finland, also joined the resistance as two parties currently in government in Finland opposed the initiative. Finland’s Centre Party (ALDE), led by Finnish PM Juha Sipilä, voted contrary to their colleagues in ALDE and opposed the creation of the new headquarters.

Finland even came out with its own proposal: rather than suggesting the establishment of a permanent EU military headquarters, Finland proposed a joint civilian-military capability in order to facilitate collaboration between the Member States without having capabilities solely under the EU flag. This is a softer approach than the other three states are taking, although it is still a step in the direction of an increased cooperation.

In addition to the neutral countries, the Netherlands and Denmark (which were both neutral countries until the Second World War) added strength to the opposition of the defense headquarters. Both the Danish Venstre and the Danish Social Democrats abstained from voting, whereas the Eurosceptic Danish People’s Party voted against. Among the Dutch ranks, the party of Prime Minister Mark Rutte-the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy- voted against the headquarters idea, a clear demonstration of the strong Dutch reticence on defense integration (the two largest Dutch parties in the polls – the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy and the Party for Freedom- oppose the initiative).

However, the election of Donald Trump as President might soften the opposition to the EU Defense Union among the Scandinavians in particular. Trump has repeatedly expressed his intention of strengthening relations with Moscow, at a time when Russia is displaying its military strength in Northern Europe. If these two trends are confirmed, than it is reasonable to believe that the Nordics will look for more reassurance, also in the form of stronger cooperation within the EU framework.


PESCO’s relative popularity

Yet, as a whole, the European political forces seem to be more comfortable with the idea of establishing Permanent Structured Cooperation than the Permanent Defense Headquarters. A large majority of MEPs (66%) supported the establishment of PESCO. Among the largest national delegations, German, French and Italians remain the major supporters of this initiative, just as they were for the permanent defense headquarters. Also in this case, France, Italy and Germany can count on the strong support of Central and Eastern European representatives for deepening the level of integration in European matters.

Suggesting that there is a possibility for integrating European defense, also a comfortable majority of MEPs from Sweden, the Netherlands and Austria voted in support of establishing Permanent Structured Cooperation.  The Finnish disagree with PESCO too: most of the Finnish MEPs oppose PESCO as a means of integrating European Defense. Remarkably, even in this case the Finnish Centre Party displayed substantial sensitivity towards the issue, being one of the few parties in the ALDE group who voted against PESCO.

Likely outcome: slow progress towards more defense integration

The way it looks like at the moment, the high opposition to the establishment of Permanent European Headquarters coming from neutral countries, added to some degrees of internal skepticism, entails that the Franco-German initiative will only pass if either the proposal is watered down to some extent or exceptions for neutral countries are provided (two-speed Europe). On the other hand, smaller initiatives towards more cooperation are more likely to pass, as they are also fueled by the several external challenges that the European Union is facing.

We will update this dossier regularly, as we process more political data. 


About the authors:

Eva Chitul, Adviser IDA Group. 

Doru Frantescu, Cofounder and Director of VoteWatch Europe (the think tank most followed by the Members of the European Parliament). 

To get a detailed mapping of the views of EU’s political parties and individual politicians, or to find more about our projects, contact us at [email protected]