Euroscepticism and common security and foreign policies

By O.R.

After the Second World War, in order to secure long-term peace and stability and to create an environment for economic recovery, the process of European integration began. At that time it involved six Western European countries, initially to promote peace, security, and economic development. This integration process evolved into the creation of the European Union with its harmonised laws on a range of economic and social issues. Indeed, EU members today have a single market, a currency (“the Eurozone” includes 2/3 of the states), share a customs union, a trade policy, etc. The 1993 Maastricht Treaty implied the creation of the European Central Bank and a common monetary policy, however, if not a fiscal policy (thus, the member states are in control over their own spending’s and taxation).

However, the idea of the EU is based not just on economic integration, but also on closer political co-operation. Thereby, the Maastricht treaty was intended to coordinate internal security and foreign policies (creation of a Common Foreign and Security Policy). Yet, despite the fact that the EU has taken steps to build common ground for security and foreign affairs, member states maintain their self-dependence in a number of policy areas. This situation can be found quite ambivalent as de jure there exists a common policy with sovereignty features, de facto, however, political and economical setup is quite complex which creates a range of external and internal pressures the EU currently faces. Such weak policy provides a flourishing basis for the rise of populist political parties with anti-EU or eurosceptic overtones. And that is a very dangerous situation, the consequences of which can be seen with a shining example: an unprecedented Brexit, since the UK has been considered one of the most eurosceptic members of the EU.

Historically, just several “main” countries have played a key role in the development of the EU, and France and the UK were the key countries for implementing common foreign and security policies. Now, without the UK and with France being mainly concentrated on domestic politics and economic issues, it is quite a challenge to outline and follow the united strategic vision of a common European security policy. This leads to tensions within the EU between the states oriented on the greater European integration on one side and the countries that tend to keep their national sovereignty on the other.

Such divisiveness may affect the decision-making in any domain, including the issues of military equipment. Here, let’s take the example of Poland a country, which despite the original agreement gave preference to American helicopters rather than French ones. In 2015 France won the competitive tender against Italy and USA to equip the Polish army with 50 H225M Caracal helicopters from Airbus Helicopters. The deal was valued at more than $ 3 billion and was to become one of the largest in the programme of modernisation of the Polish armed forces. However, in August 2016 it became known of that country’s intention to terminate the protracted 18-months negotiations regarding the conclusion of the contract between Poland and France. Two months after, in October, the Polish defence minister Antoni Macirewicz officially announced a refusal of this helicopter purchase. Explaining a commitment Poland referred to “irreconcilable differences” which made it impossible to reach a compromise and that “the contractor did not present an offset agreement that would sufficiently secure the economic interest and security of the Polish state”. Just days after abandoning the intent to follow their earlier agreement with France, the announcement came that Poland was considering the purchase of S-70i Black Hawk helicopters from Lockheed Martin in the USA. Basically, the story of 2003 was repeated, when Poland bought for US F-16 fighters, and not, as expected, French Mirage 2000s.

The reasons for the Polish refusal about the contract with the French may be many. Perhaps there is an economic factor as the Polish economy is not in a position to make some bulk purchases. Indeed, there are indications of required 10-12 (no specified quantities yet were given) special forces-rolled helicopters from US as opposed to 50 units from France. However, the major causes of the commitment disruption apparently lay in the political sphere, not in military-technical one. The supplier’s choice from the beginning depended on geopolitical preferences. When negotiations were held on the contract for the supply of fifty Caracal helicopters, the Polish government in power was the liberal-conservative party “Civic Platform” (pol. Platforma Obywatelska) oriented towards the Brussels EU leadership, who shared a common vision of foreign affairs and security policy. Now, when the conservative right-wing party — with a relatively euroskeptic approach “Law and Justice” (pol.  Prawo i Sprawiedliwość), currently the largest party in the Polish parliament — came into power, the choice was made of equipping the Polish army with US helicopters. Being concerned about Russia’s actions, namely the possible deployment of the Iskander missiles (SS-26 Stone) in the Kaliningrad region near its border, Poland obviously does not place a great confidence in the European Union defence capacities, but rather puts the trust in NATO itself with the Unites States as its key representative. The relations between Poland and the European Union are now quite tense, and certainly they are far from being satisfying with France, one of the most important members of the EU.

Another reason why the Poles eventually gave preference to a US company might be the fact that the Polish aviation factory in Mielec, now owned by Sikorsky, is now a part of Lockheed Martin Corporation. And the fact that Sikorsky’s local subsidiary PZL Mielec builds the Black Hawks is, according to Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo, a significant factor as “it is important that the military have Polish equipment made by Polish workers”. Such a determination on the part of a government to defend its own national self-interest by forfeiting the EU ones may be considered as a nationalistic move, which might only be caused by the domination of the right-wing party in governance.

Here, we are approaching the ticklish question of ensuring EU interests could be regulated by the member states with the possible implementation of sanctions in contrary. The economic problems remained since 2008, and the absence of an effective policy to address the refugee crisis is obviously feeding euroskepticism and nationalism. Heedless movements within the internal security policy by EU authorities can significantly exacerbate current state of affairs. That is why certain questionable policies which appear to conflict with basic EU values and democratic norms effected by, for example, the Hungarian government headed by Viktor Orbán, do not face much resistance on the part of the European Union governance. The goal is not to provoke the spreading of anti-European feelings and the augmentation of a number of eurosceptic parties (as here we can see the directly proportional dependence – the more a country is controlled, the more it wants to get out of such control), and that could pose challenges to the generally pro-European establishment of EU countries. There is even a concern that if there is enough support for such parties in EU key member states like France, they might become the leaders of their national governments and potentially stop the process of a European integration — which is like a bicycle, i.e. which must keep on going in order not to capsize).

The integration process can be maintained either by going “deeper” (intensification of the process in the current EU member states), or going “wider” (engagement of new countries into the process). While the former does not look like a preferable strategy due to the fear of euroskepticism, the latter is likely to be very difficult due to the fact that an additional expansion on the EU will backfire on the capacities of social institutions, not to mention the challenge to implement a common foreign policy.

The obvious unlikeliness of any possibility to regulate the relations within the EU based on the fear of euroskepticism can be explained by the weakness of the EU decision-making process. The European Commission is likely to be criticized regarding this issue, as it is the EU’s executive power managing EU common policies. However, the problem might lay deeper, in the work of the European Council. One should not forget that the decision-making process is largely consensus-based, and it is the European Council’s duty to ensure policy continuity and consensus by encouraging a compromise. Here comes a vicious circle – the countries with the euroskeptical dominated governments do not tend to compromise, and all the attempts to push forward a compromise taken by the EU’s governance risk to arouse such anti-European feelings. That is why, resuming with the case described above, Poland did not want to continue the negotiations with France. And its decision to make instead a deal with the United States entailed only verbal criticism which did not lead to some real consequence of a sort that could had influenced the outcome.

The main idea behind European integration has always been that the best way is to be united — the whole being greater than the sum of the different parts. In order to continue with this principle, no matter what integration and common policies are pursued, result in a union without consistency. The EU, as an uneven entity, consisting of a relatively integrated group of “key” countries and a group of “peripheral” countries — who have a the freedom to choose which EU policies they want to implement — is very much exposed to anti-European sentiments, thus losing its capacity to regulate and stimulate any common policies and ensure a firm adherence to European values.