European leaders vow to strengthen defence ties

States agree to pool resources, but not to defence fund, on opening day of Brussels summit

British prime minister David Cameron  and Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte  during the first day of a European Council summit in Brussels yesterday. Photograph: Thierry Roge/EPA

British prime minister David Cameron and Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte during the first day of a European Council summit in Brussels yesterday. Photograph: Thierry Roge/EPA

Fri, Dec 20, 2013, 01:00

European leaders pledged to deepen defence co-operation and improve the capacity of member states to conduct peace-keeping missions, at a summit last night in Brussels, amid concerns from Britain that member states may be ceding too much power to Brussels on defence issues.

Heads of states pledged to pool resources on defence issues, including research and investment, and improve the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), but stopped well short of a suggestion mooted by France to create a specific permanent defence fund.

On the opening day of the two-day summit, leaders also gave the final sign-off to the European Union’s proposed resolution authority and accompanying fund, which will have the power to restructure and wind down troubled banks.


Peacekeeping role
Speaking ahead of the meeting yesterday in Brussels, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said that while it was important to improve the CSDP, it must be done so within the context of the Lisbon Treaty and in the recognition of the United Nation’s lead role in the delivery of peacekeeping.

“It is important that the Common Security and Defence Policy is improved. The European Union delivers a lot of humanitarian aid. The European Union is the biggest contributor of development aid in the world, and yet very often it’s not able to do so for physical reasons . . . to get the aid to where it needs to get to.”

Ireland is involved in 11 CSDP missions, seven of which are civilian, and three of which are military missions in Kosovo.

Following the meeting Irish officials welcomed the inclusion of references to the United Nations and the Lisbon Treaty in the final conclusions, as well as the pledge to strengthen the civilian element of missions.


‘Civilian dimension’
“It is important that the conclusions are very much located in the Lisbon Treaty, about strengthening the CSDP, in particular the civilian dimension of that policy,” the Tánaiste said earlier, though he added that greater co-operation between member states to deliver humanitarian aid was necessary at a time when national defence budgets are being reduced.

Defence matters are topping the agenda of the two-day summit of EU leaders for the first time in five years, amid concern that national spending on defence matters is declining. The European Commission estimates that EU defence spending fell from €251 billion to €194 billion between 2001 and 2010.

Nato general secretary Anders Rasmussen also attended yesterday’s meeting of leaders.

Heads of state also discussed Wednesday night’s agreement between finance ministers on a new resolution authority to wind down problem banks. The Single Resolution Mechanism – the second pillar of the European Union’s plan for a banking union – was finally agreed on Wednesday, a year after EU leaders agreed the first phase of banking integration, a single supervisor for European banks.

EU commissioner Michel Barnier said the new authority will “break the vicious circle uniting banks and their sovereigns”.


Troubled banks
Under the proposal, which will now be debated with the European Parliament, a resolution board will decide on how to handle troubled banks, at the behest of the European Central Bank which takes over supervisory responsibility for European banks by the end of next year.

The board will comprise representatives of member states, rather than simply the European Commission as had been suggested by Brussels and opposed by Germany.