The Irish Times view on EU defence co-operation: a reluctant member

Ireland appears to be the most reluctant member of the EU’s Permanent Structured Co-operation (Pesco) framework

EU ministers also approved a new package of 14 joint defence projects within the union’s Permanent Structured Co-operation (Pesco) framework. Photograph: Alan Betson

EU defence ministers in Brussels on Monday heard a strong appeal from the union's top foreign and security official Josep Borrell to step up their defence co-operation in the face of destabilising Russian activities in Belarus and Ukraine. Making the case for a preliminary draft strategic paper on building the EU's joint response capabilities, Borrell argued that the new reality demands a greater sense of purpose in the union. "The classic distinction between war and peace has been diminishing," he argued. "It's not black and white. The world is full of hybrid situations, where we face intermediate dynamics of competition, intimidation and coercion. And what we are seeing today in the Polish and Lithuanian border with Belarus is a typical example of that." It's a challenge to all, Ireland included, to rethink and update how they see the development of common security.

Ministers also approved a new package of 14 joint defence projects within the union's Permanent Structured Co-operation (Pesco) framework, a voluntary coming together of 25 member states to co-ordinate aspects of their defence capabilities. The new projects included, among others, work on "strategic air transport for outsized cargo", in which Europe has serious deficiencies and depends on the US, and on developing the next generation of tactical drones for military and civilian/emergency use.

Pesco, established in 2017, now has some 60 joint projects up and running. Its most active participants are France and Italy, which are involved in 44 and 29 of the projects respectively, while Ireland appears to be its most reluctant member, contributing to one project alone – developing maritime surveillance capabilities.

Ireland has common interests, interoperability challenges, and capabilities that could be developed with others. But Ireland, for reasons that are not clear, chooses not to engage. Is there a political reluctance to associate the State with an initiative that some wrongly associate with an erosion of neutrality? Or is there a link to the wider standoff over funding of the Defence Forces?