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Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence debate -
Thursday, 9 May 2019

Common Security and Defence Policy

I thank my Co-Chairman, Deputy Pat Deering. We shall proceed with the next part of today's meeting. Before we begin, I convey the apologies of the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence, Deputy Brendan Smith, who, unfortunately, is unable to attend today. For the second time today, this time on behalf of the joint committee, I welcome everyone present. I welcome Mr. Christian Zörner, University College Dublin, Ms Cornelia-Adriana Baciu, Dublin City University, and Ms Michaela Reilly, University College Cork, all of whom have kindly agreed to make presentations on the challenges facing Europe in respect of common security and defence policy. The format of the meeting is that we will hear the witnesses' opening statements, after which we will have questions and answers with members. Mr. Zörner will be followed by Ms Baciu and, last but not least, Ms Reilly.

Mr. Christian Zörner

I thank the Co-Chairman for the opportunity to speak. When I was asked to speak about the European common security and defence policy on the occasion of Europe Day the first topic to come to mind was the role of Irish neutrality. The debate is probably as old as the country itself but has surely not lost its intensity since then. I finally decided to address the issue because recent developments in the area of European common and security policy make neutrality very topical again. I draw attention to a couple of developments that place neutrality back on the agenda and demand urgent discussion of its meaning and implications.

The first of these is Brexit.

The loss of the major Atlanticist power within the European Union has serious consequences for the further development of the European Common Security and Defence Policy, CSDP. Having always tried to prevent or at least slow down integration in this policy field, the United Kingdom has been a kind of natural ally to Ireland in trying to keep security issues out of European integration. The consequences of this development are already visible. Not long after the Brexit vote, the President of the EU Commission, the French President and later the German Chancellor were calling for the creation of an EU army. Although for the time being this is not much more than a blurry vision, it became obvious where integration in the European Common Security and Defence Policy field is heading.

Already in 2018 permanent structured co-operation, PESCO, was launched, marking a huge step in integrating security and defence co-operation towards a military alliance. Causing a lively discussion in Ireland, its participation was finally backed by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, denying a conflict between Irish neutrality and participation in PESCO. Of all the other neutral member states of the EU only Malta opted out, choosing to first observe if PESCO and neutrality are compatible. Especially in Finland and Sweden, former neutral states, a consensus has been reached to the effect that EU membership in general is not logically compatible with the traditional notion of neutrality. In practice these EU member states have thus given up their neutrality to a large extent. In Ireland, Sinn Féin proposed a Bill to enshrine Irish neutrality in the Constitution. After a lively debate, in which European politicians were even called warmongers, the Bill was eventually rejected in the Dáil.

Finally, I draw members' attention to a poll by Red C for the European Movement Ireland, published just last week. Apart from an overwhelming support for EU membership in general, the poll revealed that a majority of 58% of the Irish people think that Ireland should be part of intensified EU security and defence co-operation and that PESCO does not pose a threat to Irish neutrality. Approval is even stronger amongst young Irish people.

For me as a German citizen, the whole discussion about neutrality is new. Despite the tabula rasa after the Second World War, Germany did not have the chance to have its own discussion about this, having to align itself to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, NATO, in the face of an expansionist Soviet Union. While living in Ireland for one year and studying at University College Dublin it is very interesting to follow the public debate about neutrality and discuss it with my Irish and non-Irish fellow students. This brings insights into this very politicised topic and the fact that Irish neutrality is loaded with different meanings and historical resonances. Various narratives are contesting the nature of Irish foreign and security policy and its expression in Europe's contemporary security architecture. While there seems to be a broad consensus that Ireland can and should make a contribution to global peace and security, this is not the case for the question as to which institutional framework should be used to achieve this.

Due to the aforementioned recent developments, however, Ireland seems to be forced to take a decision. The departure of the major damper of integration in the area of foreign and security policy and the concomitant developments, such as PESCO and discussions of an EU army, make it an urgent topic. For Ireland's European partners, and therefore also for me in this case, it is essential to know where Ireland is coming from in order to fully understand the significance and the implications of neutrality for Ireland.

Ms Cornelia-Adriana Baciu

My name is Ms Cornelia-Adriana Baciu. I am studying at the School of Law and Government at Dublin City University. Today I will address four key challenges facing the Common Security and Defence Policy. The first is related to strategic coherence and internal cohesion. In the counterfactual scenario in which the EU is not able to manage internal cracks such as the rise of nationalism, so-called souvereignism or major differences in member states' strategic cultures, future risks and challenges to CSDP might be endogenous. A failure to co-ordinate efforts on the CSDP might draw Europe back to the US. Some researchers argue it might return the European security landscape to the 1950s. The EU will thus need to find innovative ways to solve the crises of sovereignty of borders and of defence. What Europe wants is not easy to operationalise because of increasing polarisation or even fragmentation of European integration.

The CSDP is a domain in which some argue differentiated integration might work better. This is because states' national strategies are driven by different threat perceptions, strategic environments, capabilities and strategic interests. My research suggests that differentiated integration in the form of a role-player model in the CSDP could enhance strategic knowledge production and capability development. Security and defence collaborative regimes such as the CSDP can have an empowering effect on member states. However, an unintended consequence of the role-player model could be a "Europe à la carte" in which members would only support the policies in which they see a benefit for their own national interests.

I will now refer to Brexit. The anticipated withdrawal of the UK from the European Union is forecasted to strain the CSDP budget. In 2018 the UK accounted for approximately 16% of the CSDP budget. To compensate for this an increase in member states' investments in security and defence can be expected. A series of peace and defence co-operation mechanisms were adopted after Brexit. The major examples are PESCO, the European Defence Fund, EDF, the co-ordinated annual review on defence, CARD, the European peace facility and the European intervention initiative. For the new instruments to be effective it is important for the EU to manage member states' expectations and ensure they will enable the achievement of strategic objectives.

I will now address the external strategic environment and external sources of instability. A particular tendency in US leadership and what some have termed a US strategy underpinned by a logic of "retreat" and "systemic competition" with China have pushed the EU to think more seriously about the scenario of US abandonment. Some researchers argue that strategic autonomy would allow the EU to gain an element of independence from US decision-making and pursue an agenda of international peace and security based on its own normative vision with mediation, diplomacy, trade co-operation, peace missions and global justice at its core. Some argue that the road to strategic autonomy might lie in a merger between the CSDP and NATO, that is, the Europeanisation of NATO. Multipolarity and great power competition represent another challenge with implications for the CSDP. In the future, the EU is expected to aim at having good relationships with all countries and avoid a return to bipolarity. This is because a bipolar logic might push countries to choose and some of them might choose China for economic reasons.

My last point is related to new security technologies. Future and emerging technologies such as autonomous robotics and artificial intelligence can have a disruptive and transformative impact in the security and defence domain. If the EU invests sufficiently in research and development, it might be in a position to harness the benefits of new security technologies. New funding of transnational and interdisciplinary research, under the European Defence Fund inter alia , will have the potential to address capability shortcomings and technological and industrial weaknesses to a certain extent. The EU could establish a new area of competence in dual-use technology, that is, technologies which can be attributed to both civilian and military purposes.

Ms Michaela Reilly

I would like to extend my gratitude for the invitation to discuss some of the challenges the European Union is currently facing with regard to security and defence. On this day it is particularly important to recall why the EU was initially established; to end frequent and bloody wars between neighbours and to unite European countries both economically and politically to secure lasting peace across the Continent. We can largely say that this has been successful. At the moment, however, huge challenges are ahead for the EU in the area of common security and defence. As is true for most of the challenges the EU faces, Brexit crops up in this area. The greatest challenge is the development of a common policy on security and defence that includes a cohesive development of policies with third countries in future missions, especially the UK once it leaves. This policy must simultaneously protect the integrity of the European Union and the sovereignty of member states. It is very important that there is a balance between these three concerns. The greatest challenge lies in finding this balance.

Different visions of the CSDP proposed by the initial "big three" member states, Germany, the UK and France, have long created space for smaller member states like Ireland to avoid hard choices concerning issues of security and defence. A more cohesive EU in the post-Brexit future presents significant challenges for all states that have long thrived in the murky waters of strategic ambiguity.

Indeed, it could be argued that the United Kingdom leaving removes a significant stumbling block for European defence co-operation. British scepticism has previously allowed others such as Denmark and central European states to avoid hard questions on tensions between formal military non-alignment and the realities of being part of a deeply integrated organisation because NATO has long provided what they have seen to be the primary security provider in the European theatre.

The UK’s absence from future Common Security and Defence Policy debates after Brexit will likely push these states into the limelight in terms of blocking or opting out from security co-operation. Our greatest challenge is how we deal with this. While the EU must grapple with the loss of its transatlantic alliance partner, it is imperative that it now attempts to balance a bilateral agreement on Common Security and Defence Policy with the UK that also complements a type of unified EU approach to issues of security and defence, encompassing the considerations of small states, such as Ireland, and big states such as France and Germany.

That is not to say that the EU has not taken any steps thus far. If we look at the decision taken by the High Representative, Ms Mogherini, to forge ahead with the publication of the EU’s new global strategy in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit referendum in June 2016, it is apparent that some attempts have been made by the EU to push ahead with CSDP. Although faced with something of an existential crisis, the EU found a response in building a security architecture to reinvigorate EU institutions and to reunite the remaining 27 member states. This provided a common ground for co-operation without reopening a Pandora’s box of institutional reform that would be required to deal with more traditional areas of European co-operation such as market regulation.

The Common Security and Defence Policy may not have always been high on Ireland’s agenda but the aftermath of the Brexit vote has been particularly challenging for us all. We now must strongly reconsider our own security and defence policy, in addition to that of our position in the wider EU CSDP. Brexit has uncovered a number of political and constitutional fault lines, none more serious than its potential impacts on the Good Friday Agreement. The Government deserves credit for the way in which it has managed the Brexit negotiations to date, particularly in securing support from our European partners concerning Ireland’s position on the Border. However, what price will we pay for this in future negotiations on matters such as common security and defence?

The reduced room for manoeuvre on common security and defence for small states, such as ourselves, in an EU that will be more dominated by France and Germany than before, must be taken into account. In a Franco-German EU, the space for constructive ambiguity is likely to be greatly reduced. Ireland’s hesitancy and ambivalence on this matter may no longer be sustainable. Irish attitudes to European security and defence might best be characterised by paraphrasing Winston Churchill, in that Ireland is with common security and defence policy, but not of it. We are linked, but not compromised. We are interested and associated, but not absorbed. It is perhaps time that we do become absorbed in greater co-operation with the EU on issues of common security and defence that extend beyond PESCO, as others here have noted, as we lose the shelter of the UK in future debates.

The threats of a no-deal Brexit and the medium to longer-term security threats posed by any kind of withdrawal have yet to be provided for. Both the Irish State and the EU as a whole faces profound challenges in this regard and there are, as of yet, no signs that neither it nor the EU is prepared to address them.

I thank Ms Reilly and all the contributors and call on Deputy Durkan.

I apologise that I had to absent myself earlier due to questions in the Dáil. I compliment all the witnesses who I have heard so far this morning on the quality and depth of their submissions and the knowledge and research that went into them. They are all to be complimented on the even-handed and balanced way in which they went about their business.

I raise a question about the Common Security and Defence Policy. It is an issue which has been with us for a very long time. Over time, different emphases occur. It is important to note that we are a neutral country. There is nothing incompatible between our neutrality and our membership of the European Union or certain associations in the peacekeeping and defence areas. In the past, we have excelled in peacekeeping and have shown ourselves to be international leaders in that area. We have a useful influence and role to play in the European context. I note modern terrorism has no boundaries and can reach far into neutral countries, peacekeeping countries and so on. Do the witnesses see a space in which Ireland might be expected to defend itself in such a situation?

I refer to the question of whether something in this area will be attached to the discussion on Brexit and if a quid pro quo be sought. I do not think that will be the case. We are very strong members of the European Union with a strong commitment to its ideals which have existed from the beginning and get stronger over time. It is not likely that we would be expected to concede one for another in this context. I think that because the European Union must prevail. If it does not and it fragments, going in different directions, and if demands are made within itself, of itself, by itself or by single member states, then there is a grave danger that the European Union will cease to be. If that happens there will be great political, military and economic implications for the entire Continent of Europe and outside. I do not need to tell our witnesses this; they are experts on this area, but the question arises as to whether we want to go back to where we were. Some member states refer to the good old days, which presumably was the first half of the 20th century. My question to young people is whether they want to go back to those much referred to good old days, when almost 70 million people died in the conflict which followed when Europe turned upon itself. All these things relate to military matters and peace. We should remember that the EU was the single most important peace agreement that the world has ever known. For all those years we have been peaceful. There can come times of turbulence occasionally and in times of economic difficulty, someone is always sought to blame. I encourage our guests to focus on the alternatives, because they are not good, and they can proceed to work in an equitable manner, to be fair to all people including refugees from outside. As we know, some of the people of Europe were themselves refugees in the not too-distant past.

I begin by congratulating all the contributors for their very well researched and thoughtful pieces. This is very timely. There are debates at the moment relating to plans for an EU army. It is clear from this morning's contributions that despite the denials from some on the political right that an advanced conversation on this is taking place. The contributions here have been challenging. While I acknowledge the poll undertaken by the European Movement, which would be very much in favour of changing our policy, we should recall that a Red C poll last year also showed tremendous support in Ireland for Irish neutrality. I ask if Irish people would really support what PESCO is doing off the coast of Libya, for example, if they knew.

If they followed the reports of Sally Hayden, the Irish journalist, she has highlighted EU support, including Irish financial support, for funding death camps in Libya. That funding was confirmed to me by the Minister of State, Deputy Helen McEntee, just a few weeks ago in the Seanad. These are camps in which people are tortured, raped, mutilated and killed. This is the reality of PESCO as it operates right now. One does not have to take my word for it. Sally Hayden has documented and continues to document it in an effort to bring attention to the realities, unfortunately, of what PESCO is doing. Do we think the Irish people would support funding of €13 billion in research subsidies for the defence industries of Europe as set out in the next financial plan for Europe? That is a reality of PESCO. The final question I ask is as follows. Surely, the best people to decide our future neutrality are the people of Ireland. That is why Sinn Féin was right to pursue the Bill. As democrats, the best way forward in this debate is to support that call for a referendum. Let us have a full debate on the future of Irish neutrality. I thank the witnesses for their thoughtful contributions today.

I apologise for having had to leave for a meeting of the Business Committee. I am delighted to welcome the witnesses and thank them for their contributions. We are at an important crossroads in Europe. Certainly, I have concerns about some activities taking place under the flag of and with the financial support of the European Union. We need to be more awake, engaged and vocal and to scrutinise more deeply legislation that comes before us on PESCO and other situations. Europe as a project must be preserved. We must work at that and learn from it. A recent report I intend to raise on Leaders' Questions today is on the future of farming in Europe. It states that 1,000 farmers and farm families are leaving farming every week right across the EU. That is leading to the degeneration, neglect and slippage of rural Ireland at a time when we are talking about rolling broadband out to rural areas. If we do not maintain sustainable farm families in rural Ireland, North and South, and across Europe, it will lead to more factory farms and large conglomerates buying up land, which is not good. In my own county of Tipperary, we have an equine company purchasing every square perch of land that becomes available. It has amassed almost 28,000 acres. While it provides employment and has great prowess in the equine industry, it is disgraceful that we do not have a land commission or other land agency to monitor and curtail what is happening. The family farm is the lifeblood of Ireland. In the two previous recessions to the one we have just come out of, it was agriculture that led us back to growth with, I might add, the support of the EU. People were always there on family farms and working the land in parishes and communities nationally. Every euro that goes into agriculture is spent locally. Farm families support schools, sports clubs, the tourism industry and everything else. It is therefore timely to have this discussion. I thank our visitors for attending today. It is my first time speaking in this new Chamber. I am delighted. It is an honour to be here.

I thank all those who have contributed. The situation around security events is not a stark one. It is more the case that there are real choices and priorities to address. It is true that Europe came out of a project of peace. The wonderful thing about Europe was that after literally thousands of years of conflict, countries which had experienced in some cases hundreds of years of war against each other decided to come together to determine how to live together more peacefully and constructively. That is absolutely true. However, while there is an incredible legacy of peace in the European project, being European and being part of the European project means thinking about that constant question of how we live together. It is about being critically present and asking critical questions, as the witnesses have. That is part of being pro-European. It is about caring enough about Europe to care about the decisions it makes.

There are very important decisions being made and there are priorities and concerns. It was a decision for Ireland to opt into PESCO. Ireland was not required to opt in, rather it chose to do so. PESCO moved us further away by involving us, for example, in joint purchases of military equipment. Ireland has an incredibly strong tradition of peace and neutrality and of leading disarmament. One of the most moving things I have ever been involved with was the global ban on cluster bombs, which are basically like landmines. The global ban was negotiated here in Ireland because Ireland was free from some of the military-industrial pressures experienced by other countries and was able to lead the way. It is not a choice between Ireland and our neutrality and Europe. It is about Ireland being a voice for peace, neutrality and disarmament within Europe. That is a key point. It is a service we provide. It was Eamon Gilmore, a former Irish parliamentarian, who represented the European Commission in Colombia to negotiate the peace deal. That is because Ireland's neutrality allowed us to have that strong voice.

We cannot turn a blind eye to militarisation. It is a disservice to Ireland and Europe if we do. It was very concerning that, just two weeks ago, the European Parliament voted against having oversight of the €13 billion European Defence Fund. That is the European Parliament choosing not to scrutinise what that fund is spent on. Will it be on autonomous weapons? How does it relate to UN mandates? We must question constantly. When we have global challenges for Europe and the world like climate change, which we will discuss later, we must ask whether we should be spending €13 billion on European defence. I do not think so. Peace and security are put together. Peace is work. We know that from the Good Friday Agreement. The work of peace is about investment in community building, understanding and social exchange. If we spent some of that €13 billion to build understanding between communities, not just here in Ireland but across the Balkan states which have come out of an experience of war as recently as the 1990s, that would deliver far more than to ramp up military spending on our borders and invest huge amounts in Frontex. As was mentioned, it is a real concern to see these immigration control deals whereby we are funding border police and military actions in places like Sudan and Libya. Those are things we need to look to. These are very important choices.

It is important to note that the current Commission is an outgoing one. We will have a new European Commission soon and it needs to hear from the witnesses about their priorities. Among the priorities the outgoing Juncker Commission has brought to today's European Council meeting on the future of Europe, what it calls "protective Europe" is number one. That means a European defence union. We must be very clear that there are high-level people in Europe who want a European army. However, that is not the same thing as saying Europe wants a European army. There are also brilliant parliamentarians and passionate Europeans from every member state of the EU 27 who want to work together on peace. That is the narrative we can push and strengthen. I would love to hear in response what the witnesses think the work of peace should be. It is not just about saying we do not want militarisation. What is the work of peace? That is the work from Good Friday and the work we have seen across the world. How does Ireland lead the work of peace within Europe to make Europe a champion on human rights and peace? It is a real choice. We cannot do that while also spending €13 billion on a European Defence Fund which we do not scrutinise. We must all challenge these issues because we want Europe to live up to its brilliant and historic past and to shape a better future. The following point is very important. In the initial PESCO agreement, the words "peace" and "peacekeeping" were not even used once. We need something that is not the PESCO agreement but which is rather a European mandate on peace work. That should be the centrepiece of Europe's next five-year strategy. I would love to hear the witnesses' thoughts on that work of peace.

Does Ireland's participation in PESCO, in particular in regard to cybersecurity, impact on its neutrality? I now invite the witnesses to respond to members' questions. While I do not wish to cut anybody short I ask the witnesses to be conscious that we are running out of time for this particular session.

Ms Cornelia-Adriana Baciu

I will try to address the many interesting questions posed. On defending ourselves, territorial defence is mandated to NATO. One of the issues on the agenda for discussion is to what extent EU member states should start thinking more seriously about gaining an element of strategic autonomy and independence from US decision-making. Territorial defence, leadership and nuclear weapons are some of the points linked with this debate, but many states have been silent on this particular aspect. There is also the scenario of the US abandonment, which I addressed in my opening statement. The United States has withdrawn from several multilateral or bilateral agreements. The US foreign policy narrative might in the future be linked with developments in the Pacific Ocean and the South China Sea. In the case of US inability to provide security guarantees in Europe, the EU should have a plan B and give serious consideration to the territorial defence aspect.

From a rational choice perspective, into the future, the Common Security and Defence Policy, CSDP, for member states will be, probably, a trade-off between utility and strategic choice. It is important to emphasise that security is a prerequisite and will remain a prerequisite for the other benefits of EU membership, including economic and political benefits. It is a precondition of other benefits as well. The major challenges to CSDP in the future will probably be linked to member states' commitment and the robustness of CSDP institutions. I mentioned the new strategic instruments that are likely to generate new assets and perhaps increase the value of defence co-operation in Europe.

In regard to Irish neutrality, last year I wrote an article on security, multilateralism and Irish neutrality based on debates in the Irish Parliament from 1998 to 2018, which is available online. One of my key findings was that the concept of Irish neutrality is multifaceted. I found different concepts associated with it, including positive neutrality, negative neutrality, total neutrality and so on. Every time there is a debate in Brussels related to security implications, there are intensive debates in the Irish Parliament on the implications for Irish neutrality. There is informed decision-making on a case-by-case basis. Surprisingly, or maybe not so surprisingly, Irish neutrality was found to be strongly linked with UN peacekeeping and stabilisation missions. From this we could infer that there is a compatibility between the Irish foreign policy and EU foreign policy narrative. The EU global strategy has been focused on peace and stabilisation missions in fragile states. Recent statistics show an increase in the support of Irish people for the CSDP. One explanation for this might be that the Common Security and Defence Policy works at intergovernmental level and it is likely to remain so into the future. Security might be an area in which intergovernmental co-operation is more effective. Sovereignty is not transferred at supranational level. Any change in this regard will require a change in the EU treaty.

On the value added of PESCO, for Ireland the value added is that the capabilities developed under PESCO remain in the possession of member states. For Ireland this means that capabilities developed under PESCO can be utilised in UN peacekeeping missions and other missions. As far as I am aware, Ireland has been active in providing personnel and staff to EU and international civilian and military missions since it joined the European Union in 1973. As of December 2018, there were approximately 650 Irish personnel deployed to such missions.

On Brexit, much of my research recently has been focused on the implications of Brexit. I recently co-authored a book with my supervisor, Professor John Doyle from DCU, on this subject. Brexit will transform relationships between the UK and the EU from multilateral to bilateral. This will have implications for the European Union evolutionary stable equilibrium. The EU will need to find a way to address this equilibrium to remain stable over time and to be able to cope with so-called atypical sequences or shocks, of which Brexit could be one. The literature argues that continual change is the prerequisite to remain relevant and competitive. The implication or consequence of this would be geopolitical adaptation of the EU. This will have further implications for future transatlantic relations, the EU global strategy and international security as a collective good.

It was mentioned earlier that peace is work. Modern peace is based on anticipation, resilience and integration of aspects of daily life. One could imagine modern peace at the intersection of three epistemological debates, international - liberal values; national - nationalist sometimes as a destructive force; and, everyday life level - daily interactions and power relations between people. We have to see all three sides as knowledge production sides. Knowledge is very important for concepts such as peace, order, justice, security and so on. This is, perhaps, a matter we should further address in our research.

Would any other witness like to comment?

Ms Michaela Reilly

It is not often mentioned that the European project was based on political and economic values. Cultural values were disregarded. Questions were posed in regard to neutrality, PESCO and peace.

If we look at the culture of all European states, it comprises the cultures of 28 different states, soon to be 27. These have very different cultural values. After 70 years of this project, it is time to introduce new ways of looking at things. It is not always driven by politics and economics, although we are in a political chamber. It is very important that we look towards cultures. I am sure most Irish people would not be impressed to hear that we are supporting PESCO. Claims were made that money we pay into the European budget for defence goes to camps in Libya and so on. That is not what we anticipated our tax money would be used for. There are also cultures within Europe that really promote a strong, hard-line defence policy, which we do not. We are more focused on peacekeeping and neutrality. There needs to be a balance in how we look at cultures and cultural values. Only in that way can we address all of the issues that have been brought up.

I thank Ms Reilly very much. On behalf of Deputy Brendan Smith, who is the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Trade and Defence, the members of that committee, and all Members present, I thank the witnesses for that excellent and informative session. Their questions were put very well and comprehensively. We will now move on to the next session, which will deal with climate change and sustainable development. This session will be chaired by Deputy Hildegarde Naughton.