Tuesday, 17 November 2020

Questions (41)

Joan Collins


41. Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Defence the position regarding the European peace facility; the role Ireland and the Defence Forces will play in relation to it; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36856/20]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Defence)

Will the Minister make a statement on the European peace facility and elaborate on the role the Irish State and the Defence Forces will play in relation to it? The European peace facility was first proposed in 2018. It is a very significant proposal because it ventures into uncharted territory. For the first time in history it would allow the EU to provide external action support for the procurement of military equipment, including lethal weapons.

I thank the Deputy for asking this question. I am glad to have the opportunity to put a statement on the record on this matter. The European peace facility, EPF, which was first proposed in 2018 by the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, is designed to provide the EU with an off-budget financing mechanism of up to €5 billion to finance a range of EU common security and defence policy, CSDP, actions with military or defence implications for the period of the next multi-annual financial framework from 2021 to 2027.

The EPF will unite and expand the scope of two existing mechanisms, the Athena funding mechanism, which handles the financing of common costs relating to EU military operations under the CSDP, and the African peace facility, which primarily supports African Union actions.  The EPF will expand the geographical scope of the African peace facility and also include a mechanism for funding assistance measures in support of capacity-building for peace and security.  This will cover both non-sensitive measures and sensitive measures, incorporating the equipment to which the Deputy has referred. Discussions are ongoing at EU level to finalise the provisions of the EPF, but negotiations are close to finalisation and it is expected that it will be operational in 2021.  Officials are closely engaged in the process in order to ensure the outcome reflects Ireland's interests and Government policy, including our policy of neutrality.

With regard to the role Ireland and the Defence Forces will play in the EPF, Ireland is an active participant in both civilian and military CSDP missions and operations. Our Defence Forces currently participate in three EU military operations: Operation Irini, the European Union training mission in Mali and Operation Althea.  Ireland's participation in the EPF does not impact on the Defence Forces' role in these operations.  Under the EPF, Ireland will continue to contribute to the costs of these missions and the other three military CSDP operations. Decisions on any EU military operations overseas and generally in the area of the CSDP require unanimity at the Council of the European Union.  Ireland retains a veto in this regard, along with all other member states.

People know that I am absolutely opposed to this facility. The EPF is a new off-budget multi-billion euro fund of European citizens' money, which is set to replace two previous programmes, the African peace facility and the neighbourhood, development and international co-operation instrument. The African peace facility supports the African Union and the African Regional Economic Communities with peace and security aims. It is prohibited from providing financial resources for military equipment, arms or military training. The new EPF does just the opposite. For the first time, it explicitly permits the provision of weapons to partner countries via EU funds. Under this proposal, arms companies will receive yet more gifts of European public money in return for militarising Africa, which will only fuel conflicts in a continuing feedback loop. In essence, the EPF is a proposal for the EU to export war to the majority world. European militaries will then be in a position to get in on the act. The EPF also enables the rapid deployment of EU military missions abroad.

I am very familiar with the concerns the Deputy has just outlined. That is why this deal has not yet been done. It is still under negotiation. I want to reassure the Deputy that in working to finalise an initiative that we can support, Ireland aims to ensure that countries like ours, which do not want to fund the provision of weapons or arms, are not asked to do so. I wish to reassure the Deputy and others who may be listening that we have been very involved in the negotiations shaping this proposal. It is really about efficiently funding EU activity in various parts of the world. Different countries have different views on whether funding arms should be part of that. Ireland's view is very clear: we do not believe that countries that do not want to fund arms should be asked to do so. That is a principle we will insist upon when this facility is finalised.

I hear what the Minister is saying. He knows the concerns people have because for the last two years peace advocacy groups, corporate watchdogs and NGOs have implored the EU to call a halt to the EPF and to avoid investing in militarised approaches that are prone to failure and risk. The European External Action Service has doubled down by insisting that hard power has to complement soft power and that our security is not free. That is a very disturbing phrase. Researchers have pointed out that it echoes the US slogan "Freedom is not free". As a country, we should insist on allowing countries that do not support militarisation through Europe's so-called security and peace funding to go their own way. Will the Minister go so far as to avoid entering this deal if that condition is not met? Once we start paying into it, we will be supporting it.

The security of countries is not free. In response to a previous question, we talked about what it costs to fund efficient Defence Forces. It is expensive. I would contend that we need to increase funding in many areas and that is what we are doing under the White Paper. The EPF is about creating a more efficient mechanism to fund EU activities in other parts of the world where we are trying to bring about peaceful resolution to conflict and build capacity through training, etc. For example, the EU makes a significant financial contribution to African Union peacekeeping forces in Somalia, without which that country could have collapsed. These are serious missions aimed at trying to allow states to survive, prosper, grow and stabilise. They are complex, messy and difficult at times. I believe we will support the EPF when it is finalised. We are trying to ensure that various countries' different perspectives on what should be funded will be reflected in the design and function of the mechanism. In other words, countries that are not comfortable with funding certain things should not be forced to do so.