Ireland joins Pesco defence pact after Dáil vote
Leo Varadkar says State has responsibility to defend ‘common European home’
The 24 heads of state who are members of the Defence Permanent Structured Co-operation (Pesco), on the side of the EU summit in Brussels on Thursday. Photograph: Stephanie Lecocq/EPA
Ireland has formally joined Pesco, the new European defence co-operation mechanism, days after a Dáil vote endorsing the move.
EU leaders meeting at the Brussels summit on Thursday made the formal decision to establish the process and took part in a ceremony at the EU diplomatic headquarters.
Pesco will enable EU states to co-operate with each other on defence projects, services, programmes and procurement and will contain legally binding commitments to increase defence expenditure.
Opponents in the Dáil criticised the move as undermining Ireland’s traditional policy of neutrality, but their criticisms were rebuffed by the Government and by Fianna Fáil, which also supported the move.
The launch of Pesco in Brussels was attended by several high ranking officers from European armies.
The conclusions of Thursday’s European Council meeting called on countries participating in Pesco to deliver on “their national implementation plans”.
A spokeswoman for Minister of State for Defence Paul Kehoe said that a draft version of the Irish implementation plan had been submitted to the EU. It proposes Irish involvement in five Pesco programmes, out of the first 17.
The five projects that Ireland has expressed an interest in participating in are: the centre of excellence for EU training missions; military disaster relief capability programme; the harbour and maritime areas surveillance and protection project; a programme to upgrade maritime surveillance and development of the cyber threats and incident response information sharing platform.
Other Pesco projects that Ireland has not expressed an interest in joining include a project to enable military forces to move across European borders more easily (military mobility), a project to develop a new types of armoured vehicles, and “Euro artillery”, a “mobile precision artillery platform.”
According to EU briefing materials supplied at the Brussels summit, Pesco is a “crucial next step in the development of the EU common defence policy”.
Politically, it reflects a growing belief among many European governments that Europe will have to become responsible for its own defence, as US commitment to Nato and its deployments in Europe becomes more doubtful.
Critics say that the enhanced capacity will inevitably lead to the development of a “European army” and participation in conflicts around the world.
Some Opposition TDs in the Dáil, including Wexford TD Mick Wallace, were fiercely critical of the proposal, claiming it was the end of Ireland’s neutrality.
However, Government speakers pointed out that they had previously announced the death of Ireland’s neutrality on several occasions, including during Dáil debates on the use of Shannon Airport by US troops.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said Ireland has a responsibility to defend the “common European home” it had helped to build.
Addressing Mr Wallace in the Dáil, he said? “I can assure the Deputy we are not going to be buying aircraft carriers, we are not going to be buying fighter jets and we are not going to be shopping around military trade fairs for any of these things, as that is not in our interest.”