Europe’s diplomacy requires wisdom, endurance and perseverance

Last Updated on Thursday, 15 February, 2024 at 9:19 am by Andre Camilleri

In less than two weeks members of the European People’s Party, once again, came out of the woodwork telling us that the EU must invest and increase its defence spending. Two weeks ago, it was the EPP leader Manfred Weber who said that the EU must invest in producing nuclear weapons as a form of deterrence against Russia. This week, the President of the European Parliament joined the chorus and stated in an interview with Politico that the EU must invest and increase its defence spending to complement that of NATO’s.

However, I did not understand whether the comment relates to the EU’s ability to replace the US’s military capacity to respond to the war in Ukraine or whether the increase in defence-spending is connected to NATO’s complementarity. The two are completely distinct because there is no way for the EU to match or replace the US’s military capabilities. Let me break this down to examine what is contributed in terms of financial resources under NATO, bilaterally as member states and what prevails when it comes to the Treaty of Lisbon and the spending within and outside the EU budget. Frankly, Metsola’s statement is quite self-contradictory. The EU is already complementing NATO, under different agreed programmes. There are different declarations, and one of them was negotiated during my former role of PSC Ambassador back in 2018. Technically, the 2018 EU-NATO declaration was updated last year and included additional terms and programmes.

Under the Treaty of Lisbon, the EU budget cannot finance military equipment. However, in 2017, the European Commission managed to find a way to circumvent the treaty by including defence-spending under the reinforcement of strengthening defence capacity within the EU budget under competitiveness, specifically research and defence. It was the preceding EU Commission that managed to launch the European Defence Fund, which created an ad hoc committee. This time, it was not Ursula von der Leyen who suggested the setup of a new committee, which consisted of member states and other public bodies, tasked to develop a standardised set of financial toolbox instruments. The aim was to address  financing challenges and gaps for collaborative development and procurement. I stated that it is impossible to replace the US’s capacity because financially, member states are not in a position to do so.

In 2020 it was agreed to set up the European Peace Facility, better known by its acronym EPF. The idea was to merge the Athena Mechanism, as well as the African Peace Facility, into one instrument. In this context, member states agreed to replace, and pay over and above what they are obliged to pay under the Treaty of Lisbon to fund lethal equipment and defence capabilities. The call-in of funds under the EPF is separate and complements the EU budget and they both entail distinct financial regulations. The EPF was negotiated under the current HRVP Josep Borrell. Indeed, it was his former chef de cabinet Pedro Serrano who pushed for its implementation. The original €5bn funds under the EPF were meant to provide stabilisation of countries that pose a threat for the security of the EU and its surrounding regions. The facility provides for the payments of logistics, as well as ammunitions, lethal weapons and military training. Since the invasion of Ukraine, the EPF was completely depleted, and replenished all over again. However, the EU can never match the military aid given to Ukraine by the US.

Additionally, Under the Treaty of Lisbon, we have an article which is almost similar to Article 5 of NATO. To simplify, NATO’s Article 5 relates to collective defence in case an ally suffers an arms’ attack. So, when a NATO ally is attacked, they meet in consultation format under Article 4 to agree on the territorial integrity and military operations before invoking Article 5 on collective defence. The Lisbon Treaty provides almost the same article, which is Article 42.7. However, in all the Political and Security Committee sessions that I attended, NATO countries always accentuated the point that Article 5 of NATO prevails over Article 42.7 of the Lisbon Treaty. In 2014, NATO allies agreed, in principle, to pledge an enduring commitment to invest at least 2% of their GDP into their militaries. However, the push is now to pay more at EU level, so that security is assumed by the EU and not just by member states individually along with NATO. Clearly, rudimentary economics dictates that the opportunity cost of increased defence spending is the production of other goods and services that could be produced with the same resource such as research and treatment of non-communicable diseases and other substantial investments in healthcare services.

And this is where Donald Trump came into the picture. He stated that those countries that are not paying for their security and defence, especially when in principle they pledged their commitment to spend 2% of their GDP during a  NATO summit in Vilnius a decade ago, must be dubbed as delinquents. He added that countries failing to allocate adequate funds for their security and defense should expect consequences if Russia chooses to attack them, and he encourages it. Frankly, I am not sure what he meant by encouraging Russia to attack them. What I can conclude is that the statement is totally incongruent and goes against international law. Well, it is not similar to when Donald Trump suggested in front of the media that a jab of disinfectant can beat coronavirus as it cleans the lungs. It might sound funny as a sound bite on Tik Tok. However, it is not!

On the other hand, the President of the European Parliament is not new to Brussels and Europe. She spent almost her adulthood in Brussels, commencing her career at Malta’s Permanent Representation to the EU, and later elected as a member of the European Parliament. Indeed, Roberta Metsola managed to reach one of the highest positions in the EU. As a Maltese citizen, in January 2022, the Maltese government supported Metsola’s candidacy for president of the European Parliament, and they augured her success in her career. However, positions come with responsibilities. Therefore, the President of the European Parliament must realise that we are not duelling local partisan politics any longer. Her responsibilities are much more complex and far greater than we think, especially during conflicts and wars. Indeed, the diplomatic narrative requires scarcity in words and proper articulation, especially during a war. Personally, I thought that the responsibilities would be assumed, and we would be shying away from petty partisan politics. However, we still see the same traits, and the same mindset even at the highest political level within the EU institutions.

We all long for a peaceful Europe. However, how long our peace prevails does not depend on just the EU’s military spending and other country’s unilateral decisions to change borders. It depends on many other complex factors, which factors are not pointing to the right direction. There is always a time for everything in life, even in diplomacy, and keeping a proper equilibrium to avoid conflicts and wars requires wisdom, endurance and perseverance. It is not a matter of appeasing. Alas, wisdom, endurance and perseverance are all missing from their traits and vocabulary.

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