Irish involvement in EU defence plan to go before Cabinet

Simon Coveney says a move to participate in Pesco would not undermine neutrality

 Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney shakes hands with Britain’s foreign secretary Boris Johnson following a European Union foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels. Photograph: Yves Herman/Reuters

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney shakes hands with Britain’s foreign secretary Boris Johnson following a European Union foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels. Photograph: Yves Herman/Reuters

 

Ireland’s involvement in a new EU defence framework, Pesco, will go to Cabinet within a couple of weeks, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney told fellow EU ministers yesterday.

He said he did not want to pre-empt the decision, but is confident it would be endorsed. The issue will then go to the Dáil where the Government may face some opposition from the neutrality lobby.

Twenty-three member states yesterday signed up at a ceremony here to participate in Permanent Structured Co-operation (Pesco) which will be officially launched at the EU summit in December, by which stage Ireland is also expected to have joined them.

Mr Coveney said that he believed this is “a good thing for Ireland”, simply makes “practical sense” and is entirely consistent with the Lisbon Treaty, which Irish voters had endorsed.

“This does not undermine Irish neutrality . This does not force Ireland to do anything that it is uncomfortable with. This is simply a development that recognises the new realities around the need for more co-operation within the European Union on security issues whether that’s cyber security, whether that’s marine surveillance, whether it’s peacekeeping co-ordination, whether it’s more co-ordinated training efforts.”

Satellite capabilities

A Franco-German initiative, Pesco is a voluntary framework for resource-pooling and enhancing the effectiveness of member-states’ cash-strapped defence forces, particularly their interoperability and research programmes, to better equip them for missions under the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP).

Some 47 common projects are under consideration: these range from a “centre of excellence for EU training missions”, to a “European medical command”, a logistics hub, officer training, satellite capabilities, deployable disaster relief capacity, research on a new battle tank, cyber training and rapid response teams, diver training .

Member states also sign up to a commitment to “regularly increasing defence budgets in real terms”.

Mr Coveney said that is already an Irish commitment in the Defence White Paper he had introduced when minister for defence. Investment is “badly needed in the context of having modern well-equipped, well-trained Defence Forces in Ireland.”

Stepping stone

The move to join Pesco comes after the Naval Service signed up recently to the CSDP Sofia anti-trafficking and humanitarian naval operation off Libya, and our Defence Forces chief of staff, Vice Admiral Mark Mellett, unsuccessfully threw his hat in the ring to become chairman of the EU’s military committee.

Although France sees Pesco as a stepping stone to what the pledging document refers to as a “new level in the progressive framing of a common union defence policy”, Irish officials say Irish concerns about that level of ambition are met with specific and familiar guarantees framed with Ireland specifically in mind: Pesco wil be run “taking into consideration the specific character of the security and defence policy of all member states.”