In the aftermath of the Paris attacks on 13 November, the first and most visible political outcome achieved by the EU was the “unanimous and full support to France” given by EU Defence Ministers on Tuesday, after President Hollande invoked article 42.7 of the Treaty on the European Union. The unprecedented commitment of the Council led many observers to wonder whether this can be a new spark to revamp the development of the common foreign and security policy (CFSP). This optimistic interpretation may be backed by the statements in favour of a European army of President Juncker and –more recently- by the EPP. However, a closer look at the current situation may as well lead to a very different –way less euro-enthusiast- reading.
No new mission in sight
The letter of article 42.7 leaves little room to further tangible integration of military and security matters of Member States, a message made clear by several prominent figures: Federica Mogherini stated that no new military operation under the CSDP flag will be planned, and that the “aid and assistance by all the means” does not automatically include military support. This interpretation is even more blatant when considering that many EU countries –Germany among others- do not see the need to send boots on the ground in Syria.
Indeed, France is undertaking a series of bilateral consultation with other Member States in order to define the kind of support each of them can offer. It is very unlikely that such consultation process will eventually lead to the activation of a permanent structured cooperation as established in article 42.6. On the contrary, this process will probably shed lights on the divergence of opinions among EU countries concerning several topics, i.e. the tools that Member States are willing to offer, their different views on the Syrian civil war, and their different opinions tt the future of CFSP.
The divergence of opinions among EU countries on the “comunitarisation” of foreign policy is well-known and documented, as well as the lack of a common approach on the intervention in Syria: while many countries decided not to join the US-led campaign against the Islamic State, France and UK are the only EU members whose military aircrafts are dropping bombs in the middle-eastern country. Even worse, the new French wave of bombings and the –perhaps temporary- appeasement between Holland and Obama on the one side, and Putin on the other, is likely to upset eastern European countries, distressed by Moscow’s unilateralism and the softer approach that Washington and Paris are adopting towards Russia. On top of that, article 42.7 does not require any formal act by the Council, thus unburdening every policy initiative from further legislative consequences in the future.
Also, the very claim that similarities between France and UK’s approach to the Syrian war could become the new engine for defence integration in Europe –a sort of Saint Malò II– is flawed: with the Brexit referendum approaching and the British call for a revision of the EU treaties to exempt London from an “ever-closer Union”, at the current stage UK is probably the least suited country to lead a strengthening of CFSP and CSDP.
In the best case scenario, the bilateral consultation –whose close coordination by France is essential- will be a good exercise for the Member States to learn how to complement different instruments (e.g. intelligence, military means, logistic support) into a single project aimed to a common objective. As this magazine already wrote, the activation of article 42.7 is unprecedented, and it represents a symbolic moment where all EU countries expressed their solidarity to another Member State. However, it is not clear to what extent this political solidarity will turn into political will to support a military action that many of them do not consider as resolved, either to end the civil war or to stop jihadi-salafi terrorism.