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EU peace project - failed down the line?

March 30, 2023
Author - Ulrike Reisner, political scientist, Vienna, Austria. Original publication on

With funds from the European Peace Facility, the European Union now plans to procure munition for Ukraine. In doing so, the EU is once again contradicting itself as a "peace project". If it still wants to take itself seriously, it would be high time to invest the billions from the European Peace Facility in diplomatic negotiations and the strengthening and renewal of international organisations.

At an informal meeting of EU defence ministers chaired by the Swedish Presidency in early March, further EU military assistance to Ukraine was discussed, in particular the rapid provision of munition for the Western weapon systems delivered.

In fact, less than two weeks later, the Council of Foreign Ministers agreed to provide one million artillery shells for defence against Russia over the next twelve months. For Josep Borrell, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the decision is "important by its ambition – we will work under very tight deadlines because the purpose is to provide one million ammunitions in one year – its scope – we will combine delivery from existing stocks and joint procurement of new production – and its financial volume – we are talking about €2 billion of reimbursement." Borrell also confirmed the Council's decision to consider a further increase of €3.5 billion in the overall funding capacity of the European Peace Facility (EPF).


More money for munition

The European Peace Facility (EPF) is an extra-budgetary instrument designed to strengthen the EU's capacity to act as a global security provider. It was established in March 2021 "to preserve peace, prevent conflict and strengthen international security". Now these funds are being used to pay for munitions. Of the €2 billion, one billion is to be used for reimbursements to those member states that supply munition from their army stocks to Ukraine. The second billion will be used to finance a joint procurement of new munition. Estonian Defence Minister Hanno Pevkur welcomed this, saying that where there is a will, there is a way.

In fact, the EPF is an instrument under the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), established by Council Decision (CFSP) 2021/509 of 22 March 2021. [3] This is because Article 41 (2) TEU excludes expenditure with military or defence implications from funding in the Union budget. There is no legal basis for this. However, the Treaty of Lisbon expanded the extra-budgetary possibilities for direct financing by the member states: according to Article 41 (3) TEU, the Council can establish a "start-up fund" with a qualified majority, from which activities for the preparation of missions according to Article 42 (1) and Article 43 TEU are to be financed.

Let's see what exactly we are talking about here:

Art. 42 (1) The common security and defence policy shall be an integral part of the common foreign and security policy. It shall provide the Union with an operational capacity drawing on civilian and military assets. The Union may use them on missions outside the Union for peace-keeping, conflict prevention and strengthening international security in accordance with the principles of the United Nations Charter. The performance of these tasks shall be undertaken using capabilities provided by the Member States.

Art. 43 (1) The tasks referred to in Article 42(1), in the course of which the Union may use civilian and military means, shall include joint disarmament operations, humanitarian and rescue tasks, military advice and assistance tasks, conflict prevention and peace-keeping tasks, tasks of combat forces in crisis management, including peace-making and post-conflict stabilisation. All these tasks may contribute to the fight against terrorism, including by supporting third countries in combating terrorism in their territories.

However, Decision (CFSP) 2021/509 refers not only to the cited Articles 42 and 43, but also to assistance measures alongside with Article 28 TEU:

(1) Where the international situation requires operational action by the Union, the Council shall adopt the necessary decisions. (…)

(4) In cases of imperative need arising from changes in the situation and failing a review of the Council decision as referred to in paragraph 1, Member States may take the necessary measures as a matter of urgency having regard to the general objectives of that decision.

In its Decision (CFSP) 2021/509, the Council now explicitly defines the assistance measures required for this purpose:

(i) actions to strengthen the capacities of third States and regional and international organisations relating to military and defence matters;

(ii) support to military aspects of peace support operations led by a regional or international organisation or by third States.

Here it becomes clear at a glance that the "assistance measures" of the EPF are not in line with the measures of Articles 42 and 43. One must therefore ask with what aim and intention this fund was launched in March 2021.

The total budget originally agreed is just under €8 billion for the period 2021-2027, with annual ceilings set for the allocation of funds. In fact, €3.6 billion from the EPF has already been spent so far on Ukraine's military equipment, "including those intended for use of lethal weapons for defence purposes, as well as maintenance, repair and refitting services".

In plain language, this means: almost half of the EPF's budget was dedicated to military support for Ukraine, and now this sum is even to be doubled.

Crisis of diplomacy

The institutions of the European Union and its political representatives - notwithstanding this - still speak of a "European peace project". In 2012, the European Union was even awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for "contributing to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe".

There is no longer any talk of that today. This became very impressively clear at the Munich Security Conference in mid-February. In Munich, it was established that European security is inextricably linked to US security in all areas - economy, defence, intelligence, law, humanitarian affairs, digital space and logistics. The European states are well on their way to robbing themselves of any sovereignty in blind fulfilment of this agenda, thereby burdening future generations with an enormous costs - politically, militarily, economically and socially.

Concrete measures such as the European Peace Facility speak a clear language: Now it is taking its revenge that the European Union has "delegated" its foreign and security policy to NATO and is pursuing a defence and security policy agenda that naturally cannot coincide with the circle of member states. NATO's security interests dominate, not those of the EU member states. With this interpretation of the Common Foreign and Security Policy by the EU, a dangerous wedge is being driven into its own ranks, especially with regard to neutral states that cannot support NATO policy. This damage is already clearly visible in the policy shift of Sweden and Finland.

The European Union may talk about peace, but it does not act accordingly. If the EU were to measure itself by its own values, it would have to devote all its energy to diplomatic negotiations. However, among many other negative developments that we have had to observe over the past year, the crisis of European diplomacy to keep the peace must be highlighted in particular. Diplomatic meetings of representatives of European member states are increasingly taking on the character of elitist private clubs and are held in parallel with the international organisations set up for this purpose.

International organisations such as the United Nations and the OSCE were founded on the basis of a commonly expressed will. For various reasons, this "common will" is increasingly difficult to achieve today. One of the main causes is globalisation in combination with advancing digitalisation. The rapid change from an initially bipolar and later unipolar system to a now multipolar system has not only shaken the political structures of states, but also their security structures.

In addition to common will, the trust of partners in stability and effectiveness is another important prerequisite for the functioning of international organisations. This trust has been shaken time and again, on the one hand because international organisations have been abused by major political actors for their power interests. On the other hand, the confidence of states in the effectiveness of international treaties has been dwindling for some time. More and more often, international treaties are not respected. Moreover, non-state actors (such as corporations or financial companies) are evading these international treaties.

It is therefore a misguided development to respond to these new challenges with rearmament and unilateral alliance building. The EU is making itself the vicarious agent of its transatlantic partner and it will have to pay the bill in Europe itself. For this reason alone, it would be high time to invest the billions of the European Peace Facility in diplomatic negotiations and the strengthening and renewal of international organisations.
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