European defence integration took another lurch forward this week when it "became known" without any formal announcement that the EU commission had finalised plans to inaugurate "a permanent group of government and defence industry officials" to advise it on the EU’s future defence research projects.
This is to be the European Security Research Advisory Board (ESRAB), which will consist of approximately 50 experts from government research institutes and European defence companies.
Participants will come from all 25 EU member states, some countries will get more representatives than others. Britain, France and Germany are expected to get four representatives each, with Italy getting perhaps three, said the industry executive. Those four nations contain the bulk of the EU defence sector.
Their purpose is to identify security-oriented projects for funding in the union’s rolling five-year research budget, known as the Framework program. This will run from 2007-2011 and is expected to set aside at least €1 billion ($1.3 billion) per year for security and defence-related research projects.
It is described as "an unprecedented step in the ever-growing EU involvement in defence policy," and will include considerable private sector participation, at the highest level.
This means that much of the defence research effort in EU member states will now be dictated by – or at least co-ordinated by – an EU institution.
Slowly, insidiously, therefore an EU defence policy is gradually taking shape, adding to the steps reported on earlier by this Blog. And all of this is leading up to the ratification of the EU constitution which – unrecognised by many pundits– will turn the European Union into a fully-fledged military alliance.
This is set out clearly in Art. I-41 of the proposed treaty, which states that a common security and defence policy "shall be an integral part of the common foreign and security polity" and that:
If a member state is a victim of armed aggression on its territory, the other member states shall have an obligation of aid and assistance by all the means in their power…
This is, in fact, a much stronger obligation than is set out in the Nato Treaty, the operative article (Art. 5) merely stating that the parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all.
That treaty merely states that: "If such an armed attack occurs, each of them… will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area."
It is all very well, therefore, for Blair to argue that the position of Britain is safeguarded by retaining a veto over defence matters, but the fact is that he has signed up to a rigid text that binds the UK into a defence alliance with the rest of the EU. There is no veto involved here – we are in that alliance the day the treaty is ratified by all member states.
Furthermore, according to Art. I-41 (3), member states "shall make civilian and military capabilities available to the Union for the implementation of the common security and defence policy" – another provision that specifies a straight obligation.
And tucked into that section is another little provision, that has a significant impact. Member states, the article states, "shall undertake progressively to improve their military capabilities". Again, this is not optional. It is a treaty obligation.
Crucially though, this is give effect in the treaty by the establishment of a European Defence Agency (EDA), which is charged, inter alia, with identifying operational requirements and, promoting measures to satisfy those requirements.
Despite the constitution not having been ratified, this agency is now in place, and this week we have also seen another piece of the jigsaw puzzle locked into place: the European Security Research Advisory Board, which will assist the EDA in its work. The noose is tightening.