Permanent Structured Co-operation has no implications for Ireland’s policy of military neutrality.
The establishment of PESCO represents a further development in EU co-operation in support of international peace and security under the Common Security and Defence Policy, CSDP. Under PESCO, member states will come together in different groups to develop and make available additional capabilities and enablers for peacekeeping and crisis management operations.
Within the EU, it is accepted that defence and security is a national competence and that any decisions require unanimity. Ireland continues to have a strong and equal voice on defence issues within the EU institutions. The European treaties require that the EU respects the specific and different policies of member states in the area of security and defence and that has not been changed or compromised by our participation in PESCO. The participation criteria expressly stipulate that PESCO will be undertaken in full compliance with the Treaty on European Union and the associated protocols and will respect the member states' constitutional provisions. It is also important to note that participation in each project is on an “opt in” basis and is, therefore, entirely voluntary. In addition, the triple lock mechanism comprising a United Nations, UN, mandate and Government and Dáil approval, which governs the deployment of the Defence Forces on international peace support and crisis management operations, remains unaffected by our participation in PESCO.
PESCO was comprehensively debated in the context of the Lisbon treaty which was approved by the people when they voted in October 2009. PESCO was specifically referenced in the Lisbon treaty protocol, and in Ireland’s national declaration, to address the concerns of the people. The legislation setting down Ireland’s approval process for PESCO was published in advance of that vote and enacted in November 2009. The Defence (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 requires Government and Dáil approval for participation in PESCO, both of which were secured before Ireland notified its intention to participate in PESCO.
While we choose to remain neutral, this is not out of any lack of interest in issues underpinning conflicts or any isolationist stance. Ireland's approach to international relations is founded on full and active engagement in the international community in support of international peace and security and the rule of law. We follow, and will continue to follow, this policy approach - militarily neutral but fully engaged – because, as committed members of the UN, we subscribe fully to the principles set out in the UN charter.
It is also worth noting that three other neutral EU member states - Finland, Sweden and Austria - have also joined PESCO.