“World peace cannot be safeguarded without the making of creative efforts proportionate to the dangers which threaten it’.
Robert Schuman, 9 May 1950
The Schuman Declaration, EII, Britain and Galileo
Alphen, Netherlands. 9 May. Sixty-eight years ago today French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman made a speech which laid the foundation not only for the future European Union but also the future of European defence. And yet, for all its vision, the Schuman Declaration was grounded in Gallic pragmatism. At the time France and the rest of Europe faced a clear and present danger with Stalin’s Red Army standing just across the River Elbe. Today, Europe faces a range of dangers which again require Europeans to make a ‘proportionate effort’ if Europe’s long peace is to be preserved for longer. This week, at the behest of French President Emanuel Macron, the EU took a step towards Schuman’s pragmatic vision by agreeing to set up a defence body that is separable but not separate from the EU. The European Intervention Initiative or EII, as its name suggests, harbours the ambition (again) to create a European military force under European command that could intervene rapidly the world over and involve post-Brexit Britain. Yet, at the same time, the European Commission is trying to freeze post-Brexit Britain out of the Galileo system. The problem is that Britain could not be a part of the EII AND be denied access to Galileo. What is even more surprising is that having called for the EII France is backing the Commission’s hard-line stance, thus threatening any future security and defence treaty between the EU and Britain upon which the EII would depend. La France perfide?
Let me first deal with the issue of utility. Galileo was gathering momentum when I was Senior Fellow at the EU Institute for Security Studies in Paris back in the early noughties. At the time, I could not for the life of me understand why Europeans wanted to spend some €10 billion on a system that duplicated the US Global Positioning System or GPS. I recall that my suggestion that Europeans invest instead in more European satellite intelligence capabilities, more deployable forces, or preferably both, went down like the proverbial lead satellite.
One argument advanced by the proponents of Galileo was that such a space-based architecture would enable Europeans to deploy advanced deployable military forces independently from the Americans. What advanced military forces? By spending €10 billion (it is in fact far more) on a duplicate system to GPS Europeans helped ensure they lacked the very advanced deployable military capabilities that would use the system. In fact, it was clear from the outset that Galileo was a glorified, taxpayer-funded boondoggle for French, German, and to a lesser extent British and Italian defence industries.
Then there is the issue of strategic common sense. Thus far Britain has contributed some €400 million to the project. Galileo is also dependent on ground bases in the Falkland Islands, Ascension and Diego Garcia, all British territories. Britain is already threatening to deny the EU use of such bases if it continues to threaten London with exclusion. Surreally, Britain is also threatening to construct its own rival system at a cost of some €4 billion over ten years with annual running costs of around €250 million. Past experience of big-ticket British procurement projects would suggest it wise to double both the cost estimates and the time it would take to deliver such a system. Surely, at a time when Britain’s front-line forces are being starved of vital capabilities to balance the books, it would make far better sense to invest in advanced military kit and rely on GPS. If Britain is utterly dependent on the US for its strategic intelligence, which it is, why would the Yanks turn off GPS? Britain is not, as far as I am aware, planning to invade Suez…even if it could.
Ever Closer Union…
It is the eternal struggle between European vision and pragmatism that is as ever causing this latest spat, fuelled naturally by Brexit. The European Commission is desperate to retain control over what it sees as a ‘common’ asset and because of Brexit Britain is fair game. Indeed, for the Commission Galileo is a vital component in any future and real common security and defence policy (as opposed to the still-born Common Security and Defence Policy). As such, for the Commission, the EII is the thin edge of an intergovernmental wedge that could see the beginning of the end of EU defence integration. The Euro-federalists are clearly worried, which explain why Federalist-in-Chief Guy Verhofstadt is again calling for an EU Army.
France is only backing the Commission on excluding Britain from Galileo because it wants more work for its voracious defence industry. However, Macron cannot have it both ways – a Britain-excluding Galileo and a Britain-including EII. Macron, like Schuman before him, is ultimately a power pragmatist who is driven as much by hard geopolitics as lofty vision. He sees the re-emergence of expansionist Great Powers on the world stage. In Europe, a newly re-inaugurated President Putin clearly has expansionist tendencies. In President Trump, he sees an American leader who evinces an extreme Republican view that institutions and treaties are there to constrain other lesser folks not the “shining city on the hill,” as demonstrated by the White House’s hostility to the flawed but important Iraq nuclear deal (more about that Friday). And, like sensible British leaders, Macron recognises that regimes and institutions that are covenants without the sword are, as Thomas Hobbes once had it, of no use to any man.
Or Ever More Pragmatism?
And yet there is an even wider issue revealed by the whole Galileo debate – the slow emergence of a hybrid EU. Brexit is not just changing Britain, it is also changing the EU. Seen from the Dutch side of the Ditch this is an essential point too often missed in the dismal exchange that passes for the Establishment’s Brexit debate in Britain.
Naturally, much effort is being made by Paris to suggest that the European Intervention Initiative is in line with the creation of an avant-garde that promotes permanent structured co-operation (PESCO) and thus, the EII is a natural extension of CSDP. Far from it. In fact, the EII has far more to do with the November 1998 Anglo-French St Malo Declaration (see my brilliant article Time to Bite the Eurobullet in the June 1998 New Statesman), the 2010 Lancaster House Treaties (see my even ‘brillianter’ Chatham House paper entitled Britain and France: A Dialogue of Decline?) and the development of the Combined Joint Expeditionary Force or CJEF between 2010 and 2016. That is why the May Government is right to embrace EII, albeit with a caveat. Europeans are not in need of more acronyms, they need more capable forces.
Schuman, Macron and Cob-Webs
Therefore, what President Macron is offering (for he is the architect) is not only the further cementing of France at the centre of a cob-web of influence axes that stretches across Europe, much in the same way as Schuman. He is also offering Britain a chance to continue to exert its influence on European defence after Brexit. However, such influence will only be leveraged if Britain maintains the necessary military power to justify it. Such power is by no means guaranteed so long as the link between threat, policy and British capability remains broken. At the very least, the eternal threat to the defence budget from the Sword of Hammocles and the strategy-free tyranny of HM Treasury’s Green Book will have to be eased for a time if London is to exploit the influence capable British armed forces would afford it.
Galileo Galilei once said that “All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them”. The EII is established on a simple truism that no autonomous, credible European defence capability could exist with the British locked outside. For all Macron’s lofty talk of an ever deeper, German taxpayer-funded EU, Macron also understands the relationship between pragmatism and change. Read between M le president’s eloquent lines and another Talleyrand-esque reality becomes apparent – future Europe will also necessarily be a great power led Europe if Europe is to meet the threats it faces. Read even further between Macron’s lines and one can see the emergence of a hybrid EU that not only Britain might one day feel comfortable to re-join, but which many Europeans would want Britain to re-join. Brexit is not the end of a game of thrones, it is just the beginning of a game that is as eternal as the struggle for power in Europe.
Robert Schuman understood power. So does President Macron. Precisely because the ambitions of both Schuman and Macron were far greater than the ability of France alone to deliver them they both envisioned French-centred European mechanisms to deliver them. And, when it comes to matters concerning ‘defence l’europe’ such mechanisms must also necessarily be Brit-friendly. In that sense, little has changed in French thinking since May 9, 1950. Therefore, expect a ‘proportionate’ French-led European response to the dangers which threaten it to include a Britain that is both in the EII and Galileo. The Commission? Dream on.