The year that is coming to an end has seen a fundamental step forward in the construction of European defense. Ten years on from the signing of the Treaty of Lisbon, the Permanent Structured Cooperation, or PESCO, on security and defense is beginning to take shape.

As has often happened in the history of the European Union, this new instrument does not have the characteristics envisaged at the outset but has been adapted to new European and international realities.

Outlook 2018: Perspectives from global thought leaders

PESCO was planned to give the more willing, politically ready and militarily capable EU members the chance to forge tighter defense cooperation and integration. The solution came about thanks to the realization that some countries had a different vision of the role of the EU, or, more simply, were not ready for the next step.

Since it was first planned, however, four changes on the global stage have spurred almost all European countries to ask themselves if PESCO might represent the best and, right now, the only possible response to the challenges to international security and Europe’s defense:

  • Islamic terrorism has undermined states and inspired criminal acts in Europe, confirming that no country is safe or able to defend itself alone.
  • Instability, tension and crises continue around the globe, accompanied by the proliferation of armaments that pose a threat to Europe.
  • America’s new political direction, which clearly revolves around its own national priorities, requires a greater assumption of responsibility by the European Union.
  • Brexit, which weakens the defensive capability of the EU but has also facilitated closer cooperation with fewer political constraints.

It is in this context that France, Germany, Italy and Spain have worked together over the last year to make the Permanent Structured Cooperation, envisaged by the Lisbon Treaty operational, and formally launch PESCO.

The plan was to make it inclusive, open to all EU countries, although with precise limits and commitments that need underwriting. It was a winning choice, proven by the fact that 23 of 28 members have already decided to join and others will follow.

The process is getting underway just as it becomes clearer that the EU needs to use any means possible to make its citizens and its institutions safer. Simply pooling buildings, personnel and equipment is not enough.

We need new solutions that allow the joint procurement of what is required, not to mention maintenance, logistical support, training and, when necessary, deployment. To make this happen, we need new joint investment in which the EU has a key financial but also political role — new programs must reflect European needs and must be seen by all as intrinsically European.

This does not mean cutting back national responsibilities and commitments, but throwing them behind the more ambitious project of protecting Europe’s strategic interests. The European Defence Fund, which was launched by the European Commission, must become one of the main instruments to achieve this.

The PESCO accord is the start of a long journey. We have shown the political will is there and that the financial resources are beginning to appear. Now we need to make it work — and prove it works to even the most skeptical observers. Nothing must be taken for granted.

This young organism could yet be suffocated if there is a return to the latent national egoism that has put the brakes on a European defense capability for so long.

Roberta Pinotti is the Italian minister of defense.

More In Outlook