PESCO is born: the history of the EU defence policy until nowadays

External Relations

Since the very beginning of the European integration process, as an early political experiment among European countries during the 50’s, Defence has always played a major role in the agenda of EU debates.

France was the first country which wanted to lead the implementation  of an actual european dimension for defence. This was the country that most represents in its history the victories and the defeats of the post-war Europe, caught between its pro-European vocation and its nationalistic ambitions. In just a decade, France promoted two initiatives towards a deeper integration in the defence sector, even if these two plans were doomed to fail. The first project was the Pleven Plan, which disposed the creation of a European Community for Defence. This enhanced the European integration process and made the cooperation with NATO even closer. The founding treaty of the European Community, signed in May 1952, never entered into force because of France. The same proposer in 1954 refused to ratify the agreements. The French National Assembly changed its approach because of two main reasons: the decolonization process, which made the French establishment rethink about the opportunity to renounce the sovereignty in the defence field; and the diminishing pressure exerted by the Cold War at the time of the armistice in Korea and Stalin’s death in 1953, which lead to a lighter need of military cooperation among the European countries.


A second project was presented in 1961, when France was aiming at structuring – at that time under the leadership of the General De Gaulle – its own international reputation. In addition, France wanted to free itself from the US, willing to place itself at the top of an independent Europe, between the two conflicting blocks. This plan, called Plan Fouchet is characterised by its confederal and anti-atlantic soul, disposing the foundation of a new Community – working in parallel and independently from the CEE – opened to future adhesions and with competence in defence and foreign policy. France was looking to a political project that might save the residual sovereignty of member States, developing a classic intergovernmental organization. In this framework, member States would have been at the center of the decision making process, leaving aside the role played by the Communities. The French plan was hampered in April 1962, in front of the opposition of the other member States who wanted to save the positive results achieved by the integration process, with the help of the Alliance of the North Atlantic.


Since than, long time passed before that the member States defined a new strategy to develop a common defence and security approach. The defence policy formally appeared only in 1992, with the Maastricht Treaty.

Why Maastricht? Why 1992?

Well, this important action toward a deeper cooperation in the defence sector happened because of two main reasons. First, the end of the bipolar era determined the rise of new internal and external threats to the European Union. This made it clear to member States that a split between the political sphere and the military sphere was something artificial and particularly harmful. Second, the fragmentation of threats to international security let the US impose to its international partners a greater sharing of responsibilities and a more equal balancing of the military burdens among allied countries.

Only with the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1997, and later, after the European Council of Koln in June 1999, member States decided to abort the European Western Union integration mission, while conversely transferring all the EWU military functions concerning the Petersberg missions to the EU. This inevitably made relations between the EU and Nato even closer, eliminating that organization that previously connected the European Communities to the Alliance for the North Atlantic. The process of transferring competencies will find its full completion in 2001 with the Treaty of Nice – entered into force in 2003.

Far from being a revolution, the European defence policy had to deal with extended time-frames and mitigated political compromises until the Treaty of Lisbon was signed in 2009. This last agreement delivered a major outcome with several really important new features. In the first place, the Lisbon Treaty enlarged the list of different types of mission that the EU can put in place: the art.43, in facts, gives the mission so called Petersberg increased scope to push ahead the ability of the EU to face new international threats. Firstly formulated in the framework of the EWU, these missions were introduced by the Amsterdam Treaty and comprehend humanitarian missions, peace-keeping missions, peace-enforcing missions, and missions concerning fighting units in order to manage crisis. The Lisbon Treaty actually introduced other new types like common actions towards disarmament, prevention of conflicts, and fighting the terrorism – as well as with the aid of third countries.

Second, the Lisbon Treaty introduced the possibility to implement a structured permanent form of cooperation in the field of defence. All the member States falling into fixed criteria concerning military force, specified by Protocol X attached to the Treaty, can settle a structured cooperation. They will finally subscribe greater binding engagements for the realization of the most demanding EU missions. The structured cooperation is founded on a voluntary base, thus mitigating the stiffness of the CDSP system. This form of cooperation has been disposed by the Treaty of Lisbon in order to stimulate the development of European military forces able to manage current and future crisis.


In the framework of the Protocol X, two weeks ago, several member States gave their formal endorsement to the High Representative’s initiative towards a deeper and structured cooperation in the defence sector. So, PESCO is born and it adds value in two ways and two alone: the idea of an “avant-garde” and the concept of “binding commitments”. An important element is that PESCO, at this stage of the European project, it remains within an intergovernmental framework. Not only is PESCO participation voluntary, but decisions are still taken by unanimity, which leaves member States’ “sovereignty” unharmed.


Related Articles

Back to Top