To what extent will the European Commission’s efforts to promote a rationalisation of the European defence industry be based on a common political and strategic vision about the future of European defence?
A few months after the European Parliament elections, and a few weeks before a new European Commission is fully operational, the European Union is facing old and new challenges, both domestic and international.
The Italian Prime Minister, Paolo Gentiloni, last week issued a plea to his European colleagues for help in dealing with migrants crossing the Mediterranean. Combined with the threat to close off Italian ports to vessels disembarking migrants from search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea, the Italian government called for more burden-sharing generally in distributing migrants across the EU. This entreaty was reiterated on Sunday, July 2nd, in a meeting of Justice and Home Affairs ministers from Italy, France and Germany. It is certain to feature predominantly at the EU meeting of Justice and Home Affairs ministers on July 6th and 7th.
The background to this call is a marked increase in irregular crossings from Libya to Italy – the so-called Central Mediterranean route – a situation that has been complicated by reports of more than 10,000 refugees and migrants arriving in Italy in recent days. Statistics from Frontex (the EU’s border agency) indicate that arrivals and asylum applications are roughly 25% higher in Italy than at the same time last year (see Figure 1) – a figure that is likely to increase with the release of data from June. First-time asylum seekers in the period from January to April are up by 50%. If arrivals follow a similar pattern to that of previous years, where summer is the prime time for irregular Mediterranean crossings, the EU is likely to hear from Italy again rather soon. Another reason for the plea lies in the lack of implementation – to put it mildly – of the one-off relocation scheme decided in 2015, whereby 35,000 asylum seekers located in Italy are to be distributed among member states before September of this year. Currently, only 7,300 have left Italy under this scheme (EC, 2017).
What future for Europe does Jean Claude Juncker want?
On 1 March 2017, President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker delivered a White Paper on the future of Europe, which is meant to be discussed by governments and to encourage reflection on the role of the European Union. Later this month the Treaty of Rome will turn 60, but timing and context already indicate that the Commission does not believe any decisions on next steps will be taken until that anniversary is long past. More likely, they will wait for the dust to settle after national elections in the Netherlands, France, and Germany, and discuss the proposals towards the end of 2017.
The paper reads like a run-of-the-mill think-tank report from ten years ago, featuring a hefty dose of disillusionment with EU reform and failed referendums. In fact, the White Paper falls short of laying out any specific plan or recommendations for what to do next. Instead, it provides scenarios that seem to scare the reader about what could happen to the EU over the coming years, while failing to state what might actually trigger the alternative futures it sketches.
This article was originally published by the Barcelona Centre for International Affairs (CIDOB) on 23 March 2015.
Jean-Claude Juncker has revived the debate on a European army, an old, periodically torpedoed aspiration. In the 1950s, when the European integration process was in its embryonic phase, six nations led the European Defence Community. Its goal was to establish a supranational European army as an alternative to German rearmament, but it never saw the light of day due, ultimately, to the rejection of the country that put the initiative forward, France. In the 90s, when the Maastricht treaty set up the Common European Security Policy, its military component was also diminished by the reluctance of the more Atlanticist states to build a common European defence system.