Geopolitical Changes Demand Shift and Acceleration of PESCO Projects

Legal - September 1, 2023

Permanent Structured Cooperation (better known as PESCO) is one of the building blocks of the EU’s defense policy. It was established in 2017 in order to enable EU member states to cooperate more closely in the field of security and defense, both at national and European level, also involving some international actors (such as NATO).

PESCO intends to promote closer cooperation among EU member states in defense matters. PESCO, unlike other forms of cooperation, has a legally binding character, as participating member states have made 20 commitments to each other. Binding commitments therefore for numerous actions carried out, such as increasing defense spending, planning and developing defense capabilities together, and improving interoperability of forces and joint use of existing and future capabilities. To date, there are 26 states participating in PESCO, which is all members of the European Union, with the exception of the island of Malta. In addition, there are 22 joint members in the EU and NATO, and all of them also participate in PESCO.

Once a year the European Union published an annual report in which it reports the progresses made at the European level in terms of defense capabilities and military development.

PESCO projects must necessarily refer to the changing conditions under which they are to be implemented. Today, in a situation where security and defense are prioritized, these projects therefore assume even greater relevance and importance in the international scenario and become central to the very role of the European Union in the world.

Referring back to 2022, it was noted how PESCO projects have achieved significant progress at each of their stages. A total of 60 projects were put in place, and more than 50 percent of them made significant strides by achieving their provisional goals.

In the defense and security policy pursued by the EU, adaptive capacity to strengthen responses is crucial.

In this sense, Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine has raised new and unpredictable challenges. And so, EU member states have had to become aware of how crucial it is to invest in defense and military policy. Russia’s aggression has also made them realize how important it is to know how to reshape defense capability development needs.

According to the report produced by the European Union, it is therefore clear that progress has been made in PESCO projects. In particular, there are key areas where such progress has manifested itself and continues to manifest itself.

First, PESCO projects have demonstrated considerable adaptability by expanding their scope and objectives to proactively address broader challenges arising from Russia’s aggression.

In addition to this, PESCO projects underwent changes related to their deadlines, taking into consideration the urgency and criticality of certain situations. So, some projects saw their deadlines accelerated, especially when these projects were related to more complex and evolving threats.

The war in Ukraine then also led to a new planning of resources. In fact, defense spending and project funding was increased. Partnerships were also strengthened, creating closer cooperation between PESCO member states, NATO allies and Ukraine.

The crisis that dramatically involved Ukraine and Ukrainian people has then further underscored the criticality of interoperability and integrability among member states. For example, ongoing PESCO projects are adapting their scope and timelines and considering synergies to better respond to the changing security landscape.

The year 2022 was a successful year for PESCO. There were 18 projects that reached the project execution year. Twenty-two among these are the projects that are expected to reach Full Operational Capability (shortly, FOC) in 2025, according to what has been done so far. This nicely highlights how a steady level in terms of progress is maintained within PESCO. However, there are particular projects that require special attention or monitoring that need to be properly addressed.

It should be noted that PESCO projects are already producing end results, improving European capabilities in areas such as cyber defense, unmanned systems, medical services, and chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) surveillance. All of these areas are fundamental nowadays and they need to be observed from a privileged point of view.

Moreover, under PESCO projects, several initiatives are already producing fruitful results, strengthening member states’ capabilities.

Among the initiatives worth mentioning in this context is the so-called EMC, which stands for European Medical Command, which has the specific purpose of providing the EU with a medical capability that over time can be durable so that military medical resources can be skillfully coordinated. The EMC will ensure efficient joint EU management of European medical services and compose a common operational medical framework, improving the supply of critical medical resources and helping to harmonize national medical standards, legal framework conditions and health service principles. According to this project proposal, it is expected to advance the interoperability and coherence of healthcare capabilities in Europe and lay the foundation for an effective generation of medical forces. In 2022, EMC played a key role in successfully leading the Pandemic Response Exercise, RESILIENT RESPONSE, in 2023.

The European Medical Command is therefore important mainly because with the start of the war in Ukraine there was a realization of how essential it is to have robust military medical capabilities, especially when faced with long and high-intensity military operations.

In addition, the groundwork has already been laid to address future military and European defense and security needs.

Noteworthy actions include the European Patrol Corvette (shortly, EPC) project through which it is intended to increase maritime security and work so that critical infrastructure can be safeguarded.

Similarly, the Maritime (semi) Autonomous Systems for Mine Countermeasures project and the Defence of Space Assets project also aim to strengthen security and resilience in both water and airspace.

The results achieved in PESCO framework are a clear sign that European defense policy has all the prerequisites to improve and become ever stronger, both qualitatively and quantitatively speaking.

In this complex historical period, more than ever before, it is crucial to think about strengthening the collaboration and cooperation in this specific area. Because, as has resulted from the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, the geopolitical environment is constantly changeable and subject to sudden and unpredictable changes that can create enormous difficulties if not addressed on time and using all the proper tools.

European defense policy at the outbreak of war on last 24th February 2022, has faced quite a few problems, mainly related to the fact that in recent years defense in Europe has not received the proper attention and adequate resources have not been allocated to it, both in terms of economics and military tools.

And in fact, despite the determination of all member states and the European Union as a whole, aid to Ukraine has sometimes, unfortunately, not lived up to expectations and has not been sent in a timely manner.

The hostilities in Ukraine, however, have shone a light on this EU shortcoming, making people realize the importance of a defense policy that must be as coordinated and constant as possible. The progress made in PESCO framework seems to be something good for the future. The most important thing is that the realization of creating a solid and compact European defense does not fade over time and that the EU institutions, together with the member countries, work together to make the EU more competitive and more secure as a whole.