The Brexit Challenge to European Defense: Italy Proposes a “Schengen of Defence”


2016-09-17  According to the Italian Ministry of Defence, Italy is looking to expand European defense efforts in the context of the Brexit dynamic.

Minister Pinotti, during a joint interview with Minister of Foreign Affairs Paolo Gentiloni to French magazine  “Le Monde”, expressed her  hope that “a multinational European force based on a joint mandate, i.e. a body with common command, decision-making and budgetary structures” may be established.


In analysing the current situation she added that: “…if we want to counter the populist drift that is building on anti-European feelings, we must offer effective responses to our citizens’ concerns, starting from security. One of the most appropriate responses can rotate around defence. The U.K. exit from the EU will deprive us of a member-state equipped with significant military capabilities: we must develop new common defence perspectives”.

Both ministers focused on the above-named aspects in their analysis of European defence.

 This piece was published on August 11, 2016.

Since then Italy and Germany have joined efforts along the same line.

For example, when Germany’s defense minister visited Lithuania earlier this month she highlighted the core theme as well of greater defense union in the coming of Brexit.

Germany’s defense minister called for a European “defense union” on Thursday during a visit to the Baltic state of Lithuania, where Berlin is preparing to lead a battle group of about 1,000 troops as a deterrence against neighboring Russia.

The European Union has long considered forging closer defense ties while not undermining the U.S.-led NATO alliance, to which many EU member states also belong, especially in the face of a more aggressive Russia and worsening conflicts in the Middle East.

The decision of Britain, a staunch opponent of any EU “army”, to quit the EU has also removed an obstacle to the closer European defense cooperation favored by Germany, France and many eastern European countries.

“It’s time to move forward to a European defense union, which is basically a ‘Schengen of defense’,”, Ursula von der Leyen told reporters in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius.

“That is what the Americans expect us to do.”

Schengen refers to the passport-free zone covering much of Europe, a pillar of the more integrated Europe that Germany strongly supports.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel also recently endorsed the idea of more joint military operations with the three Baltic republics, all NATO and EU members which have felt especially vulnerable following Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula and its support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Germany already has close military ties and joint forces with Poland, the Netherlands and France outside NATO structures, though Berlin and Paris also say they do not envisage establishing a European army.

“When we have threats that are surrounding us, we all know no country by its own will be able to manage that. But we together, we Europeans, we are very strong if we improve our capabilities as Europeans,” von der Leyen said…..–finance.html

And prior to the most recent EU summit held in Bratislava, the Italian foreign minister amplified on this idea in the following piece published the day before the summit on September 16, 2016.

From Syria to Iraq, from Daesh [Islamic State] to Libya, and the flows of migrants and refugees, the unrest in the Mediterranean represents a geopolitical priority for Italy. Repeated attacks by Islamic terrorists throughout Europe remind us that domestic and international security are different aspects of the same challenge.

We face a threat both inside and outside our societies that generates fear and uncertainty. The EU must find effective answers to our citizens’ security concerns. This will require an integrated approach that includes increased cooperation on intelligence, police and justice, preventive diplomacy, crisis management and — crucially — a leap forward in a common European defense strategy.

We cannot improve the EU’s capacity to project stability in regions crucial to our security if we do not move our cooperation on defense to a new level. In addition to numerous practical benefits, such an effort would have a strong political impact, as it would underscore our readiness to relaunch the process of European integration.

Following the British vote to leave the EU, the debate over the future of European defense has regained momentum. The United Kingdom’s exit will deprive us of a member state with considerable military capabilities. And yet Brexit opens up new possibilities precisely in this sector. The strengthening of European defense is a key element of the Global Strategy for the European Union, unveiled just a few days after the British referendum. And it will be discussed at this week’s summit in Bratislava.

We are all aware that defense lies at the core of national sovereignty. Any step towards a more integrated European defense requires an immense amount of trust, as well as careful attention to different national histories, constitutional systems and security priorities. Close coordination with NATO will be crucial; the transatlantic relationship is and will remain the bedrock of our common security.

This is why a pragmatic strategy and, above all, political will is so necessary. In Italy’s vision, there are three main areas worth exploring in the pursuit of a common European defense.

The first concerns a comprehensive approach to regional crises. We should work to create a more streamlined and integrated civilian-military structure, in order to ensure a more effective response to complex emergencies. The establishment of a permanent civilian-military headquarters — as has also been suggested by France and Germany — would represent an ambitious step forward in the EU’s capacity for crisis management.

The second area regards the development of defense capabilities. Europe has to acquire the defense capabilities needed to be a prominent player on the international scene. This will necessitate common EU efforts to support the Continent’s defense industry and broaden its industrial and technological base.

The third area involves multinational forces: the establishment of a division-level European Multinational Force, able to carry out a set of pre-determined missions and operations. This initiative would differ from the multinational forces already in place, such as the battlegroups, in the size and composition of the military units. It would also possess a unified strategic command, the endowment of permanent forces and a common budget for operations.

These three areas are not entirely new. Nevertheless, we must acknowledge that in the past we have found it difficult to make significant progress as 28 member states. Today, at a time when decisive external action is required, we need to move forward rapidly.

Italy proposes that a core group of EU countries accelerate their integration in the area of defense, leaving others the option to join at a later stage through an inclusive exercise. Rather than advancing ready-made solutions, this would be the beginning of a political process.

In theory, the Lisbon Treaty provides for stronger integration among a restricted group of consenting member states, via the so-called “Permanent Structured Cooperation.” Italy will continue to take an active part in the debate on how to best employ these provisions. However, the decision-making system to apply them remains especially complex.

That is why we should consider a different path as well, outside the current treaty framework — a policy scheme that, together with Italian Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti, we have called “Schengen for Defense.”

Under this approach, a group of like-minded countries would begin sharing military capabilities and resources on the basis of an ad hoc agreement. The initiative would then be opened to all interested member states, under procedures similar to those adopted in the original Schengen Agreement.

Italy is ready to discuss these and other proposals for the future of European defense with other EU members. The need for political action following the Brexit vote and in view of the upcoming 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome in March 2017 provides us with a window of opportunity. It is time to move toward a common European defense.

Paolo Gentiloni is Italy’s foreign affairs minister.

Yet the latest European summit highlighted an Italian position which wants a harder line on dealing with the immigrant influx and raises question about the Italian PM’s belief in the ability to move forward on collective defense.

The aim of Friday’s (16 September) Bratislava summit was to reconnect EU leaders with European citizens, and to convince voters that the EU works for them, not against them….

Leaders pledged never to return to “uncontrolled flows” of migrants of last year, but the term “chaos” used often by Tusk was scrapped, as it was deemed too grim by some.

To reach that goal, member states want to ensure full control of external borders and by the end of the year to have the European Border and Coast Guard fully operational.

In December, leaders are to decide new plans on security and defence cooperation, and see how deeply they can proceed on military cooperation within the existing EU treaties.

At the end of the year, the 27 also plan to seal a deal on the doubling of the investment fund, proposed by EU commission president Jean-Claude Juncker. In October, they will assess the bloc’s trade policy to provide more protection for European consumers and businesses.

Leaders also decided to send help to Bulgaria to protect its border, and set up an entry-exit system that checks the identity of people before they travel to the EU…..

However, it was Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi who refused to stick to the script.

“I can’t give a joint press conference with Merkel and Hollande. I don’t follow a script to make people believe we all agree,” he told journalists after the summit, according to ANSA news agency.

Renzi said the progress on the migration crisis or rolling back the policy of austerity was not sufficient. “We want to see facts,” he said, adding that the Bratislava summit was a waste of time.

EU officials seemed surprised by Renzi’s belligerent comments, and suggested they were geared towards the Italian electorate, which will vote later this year on a number of crucial reforms on which the Italian PM has bet his political survival.

It is clear that the coming Brexit will have an impact on the defense of Europe; what that will be will be a function of evolving American policies, the British redirection in the context of Brexit and how key members of the Alliance break out on the way ahead for bilateral and multilateral defense arrangements.