COLOGNE, Germany — Germany will use its turn at the helm of the European Council to launch the first-ever common threat analysis for the European Union, as well as broker a deal allowing nonmember countries access to defense cooperation projects.
The two objectives represent a push to rekindle the bloc’s nascent defense efforts, which are facing growing pressure to show tangible results after a preoccupation with bureaucratic groundwork.
A threat analysis with buy-in from all members of the union could provide a fresh framework from which to derive new capability requirements. Such an analysis, which is routine for many national governments, has never been drawn up from an EU perspective.
German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer described the effort as a quest for a “common strategic compass” in an interview Wednesday with the Atlantic Council think tank. The exercise, for example, could lead the EU to get behind new counterterrorism initiatives in Africa to relieve the demand for U.S. presence there, she said.
Finding common ground among 27 countries on such thorny issues as dealing with Russia and China is a high bar in itself. Sustaining the trans-Atlantic relationship amid a U.S. presidency seen in Europe as increasingly cantankerous toward the bloc — and Germany in particular — is expected to add another challenge to Berlin’s six-month presidency on the council, which begins July 1.
American defense companies want the greatest possible access to the EU’s Permanent Structured Cooperation defense initiative, or PESCO, which comes with subsidies from the European Defence Fund.
The fund stands to get about $9 billion in the latest long-term budget proposal covering 2021-2027, down from more than $14 billion in the European Commission’s initial pitch.
But as U.S. officials push for an inclusive policy covering defense contractors of nonmember countries, European leaders say they want to focus first and foremost on streamlining intra-European cooperation.
A deal for including not only U.S. companies but also those from the U.K. and other EU partners has seemed within reach for some time.
But the devil is in the details: At the heart of it lies the challenge of letting outsiders partake in cooperative programs on a mechanistic level, while keeping them from receiving European defense money intended only for member countries.
In that spirit, Kramp-Karrenbauer, along with the defense ministers of France, Italy and Spain, has advocated for a Finnish proposal seen as a potential solution.
“The open question of third-party participation rules must be resolved as quickly as possible,” the four ministers wrote to EU chief diplomat Josep Borrell in late May. The Finnish proposal, the four defense ministers argued, should represent the bloc’s consensus on the issue. “This balanced compromise is in the interest of all participating member states on potential partners.”
According to a German Defence Ministry spokesman, the proposal in question rests on the premise that nonmember states, especially NATO allies, can become part of PESCO projects as long as an EU country retains “primacy” in the effort.
The proposal text itself hints at the fence that EU officials strive to create around the money source at the center of it all.
“The involvement of entities in PESCO projects does not imply that such entities will necessarily be eligible for funding under the EDIDP or EDF regulations,” it read, using shorthand for the European Defence Industrial Development Programme, a separate funding stream, and the European Defence Fund.
Kramp-Karrenbauer struck an optimist tone in her Atlantic Council appearance on Wednesday. “We will try to implement the proposal so we can get third states onboard in PESCO projects,” she said.
Aaron Mehta in Washington contributed to this story.
Sebastian Sprenger is Europe editor for Defense News, reporting on the state of the defense market in the region, and on U.S.-Europe cooperation and multinational investments in defense and global security. He previously served as managing editor for Defense News.