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MEPs must ensure sharp oversight of EU shift in military policy

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Predictably, one of the more contentious issues debated by European Parliament election candidates was the degree to which the EU is moving towards a European army.

Little attention though was given to a current European Commission proposal that has the potential to fundamentally reposition Europe’s involvement in, and approach to, peace and security around the world, and with potentially lethal consequences.

The European Peace Facility (EPF), first brought forward in June 2018 by the EU high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, Federica Mogherini, is designed to promote greater efficiency in the planning and deployment of EU military missions.

According to Mogherini, it is also intended “to support our partners in dealing with our shared security challenge”.

However, as part of that support, the EPF contains a provision that will allow the EU to provide “train and equip” support to the armed forces of third countries affected by conflict.

Alarmingly, there are no limitations on the type of equipment which could be financed through the EPF, which could include lethal and non-lethal weaponry, or equipment which could be used for torture or other human rights violations.

This provision represents a remarkable shift in EU policy, which until now excludes the direct provision of lethal equipment to foreign government partners.

In fact, there is little evidence that military-focused “train and equip” efforts lead to improved peace, justice and development outcomes. On the contrary, it is well-demonstrated that this type of military assistance can harm peace and development and rarely provides its intended leverage.

Cycle of violence

Peacekeeping, defence and security forces can and do play a vital role in sustaining peace. However, overreliance on the use of force as the principal means of conflict resolution may, itself, create and perpetuate a cycle of violence.

Among the lessons of Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya are that wars, once started, are difficult to end, and their devastation precipitates further insecurity, displacement and violence.

Overreliance on the use of force as the means of conflict resolution may, itself, create and perpetuate a cycle of violence

There are also concerns around the governance of the EPF. At present, no oversight role in envisaged for the European Parliament, with decisions on the EPF being overseen by national parliaments. With considerable variation across Europe parliaments in levels of engagement with European institutions, it is unlikely the necessary oversight will be in place for such significant proposals.

The Irish Government’s own position on the EPF is not yet clear. While acknowledging the concerns around providing lethal force equipment, the Government has sought to play down the likelihood of the EPF being agreed by the EU in its current format.

Speaking in the Dáil last month, Minister of State with responsibility for Defence Paul Kehoe said that while the proposal had been discussed at ministerial and working group level in Brussels there was limited support for aspects of the proposal, and that any decisions made would be done so only “within our policy framework of military neutrality”.

Rights and democracy

While the implications for Irish neutrality of the EPF would benefit from clarification, the EPF does appear to represent a realignment of EU priorities when it comes to addressing global conflicts. European commitment to funding “train and equip” support is clear – but arguably it comes at the expense of conflict-prevention approaches based on principles of human rights and democracy.

The EPF cannot be removed from the wider context of increased global militarisation. In 2017, the world spent an estimated $1.74 trillion on weapons and its military

The EPF cannot be removed from the wider context of increased global militarisation. In 2017, the world spent an estimated $1.74 trillion on weapons and its military. In 2017, the share of income that the EU spent on its military increased for the first time in eight years and there is strong pressure, not least from the United States, that bigger increases should be made this year and each year thereafter.

Together, EU states already spend about $260 billion on their militaries each year.

The EPF proposals also come only months after the Government laid out its commitment to developing a comprehensive approach to peace and security challenges in A Better World, Ireland’s new international development policy.

However, the welcome ambition and focus on peace set out in this policy risks being undermined by increased militarised responses around the world which the EPF represents.

The EU’s hope is to secure member state agreement for the EPF by the end of 2019, with a view to having it operational by the beginning of 2021. Given the potentially profound changes to EU security and foreign policy that the EPF represents, the absence of any Dáil debate on this issue is regrettable. For newly elected MEPs, ensuring a greater role in providing oversight for the EPF should be top of their to-do list.

Sorley McCaughey is head of advocacy and policy at Christian Aid Ireland

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