Defence Cooperation in the EU: implications for Norway and Finland


Wednesday 30 May 2018, the Embassy of Finland in Oslo and IFS co-hosted a conference on the latest developments in EU’s defence cooperation and its implications for Norway and Finland.

Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), third country participation, defence industry cooperation, and NATO-EU relations were among the discussed topics.

Research Fellow Tuomas Iso-Markku, Finnish Institute of International Affairs

Professor Kjell Inge Bjerga, director of IFS, opened the conference. Thereafter, Tuomas Iso-Markku, research fellow at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs (FIIA), gave a presentation on the EU’s defence dimension, starting by presenting six claims:

  • Security and defence is higher on the EU’s agenda than ever before.
  • The EU deals with security and defence more broadly than earlier.
  • The EU is planning and implementing several measures, such as PESCO and the EDF.
  • Security and defence through the EU is not meant to be an alternative to NATO.
  • The relationship between EU and NATO will remain ambiguous and contested.
  • The EU-members still differ in their views on the EU’s defence dimension.


A variety of factors has both broadened the EU’s focus, and pushed security and defence towards the top of the Union’s agenda: The financial crisis, instability in Northern Africa, the US pivot to Asia, Russia’s actions in Ukraine, and several terrorist attacks in Europe. The Brexit vote in 2016 also has increased the importance of security and defence in EU integration. In addition, the election of Donald Trump as US president has led to Europe taking more responsibility for its own defence.


Iso-Markku then went on to present four concrete measures initiated in recent years:

  • The Military Planning and Conduct Capability (MPCC), responsible for the planning and conduct of the EU’s non-executive military missions;
  • The Coordinated Annual Review on Defence, which should help to coordinate and synchronise the EU member states’ national defence planning;
  • The European Defence Fund, initiated and managed by the European Commission.
  • PESCO, which provides a framework for capable and willing members states to deepen their defence cooperation.

The 25 member states that signed up for PESCO have to comply with specific commitments, e.g. related to their defence expenditure and the availability and deployability of their troops. The participants have adopted a list of 17 concrete projects, where a so-called “military Schengen” has attracted most interest.


Iso-Markku argued that, although a certain division of labour between the EU and NATO exists, both EU’s role and the relationship between EU and NATO will remain ambiguous and contested. He further argued that the Trump administration has considerable suspicions of the EU, and is fearful that EU activities will weaken NATO and make Europe a more independent actor. Simultaneously, the US expects Europe to invest more in defence, thus taking more responsibility for its own security.


Despite recent initiatives, the EU’s ability to develop its defence dimension will be affected by the still considerable differences between EU members, in terms of e.g. their threat perceptions, priorities, NATO-relations, and defence industrial interests. For instance, some countries, like Finland, have been eager to develop PESCO, others, like Sweden, have been cautious. Some have not joined at all, e.g. Denmark and the UK.

France and Germany are key players for the further development, but in terms of motives and aims, there are also considerable differences between these two nations, Iso-Markku argued. He therefore believed that EU’s defence dimension would continue to be characterized by a certain degree of ambiguity concerning the EU’s role and task, geographical priorities, and relationship with NATO and the US.


Lt Gen Esa Pulkkinen, Director General of the European Union Military Staff

Lt Gen Esa Pulkkinen, Director General of the European Union Military Staff, started his introduction by challenging Iso-Markku’s fifth claim, namely the ambiguous relationship between EU and NATO. The security of European citizens, according to Pulkkinen, remains the core issue, regardless of which alliance or organization their country belongs to.

Another priority is the defence of European interests, e.g. through action outside the European territory as exemplified by EU missions in Somalia, the Central African Republic and Mali. Future generations of Europeans will benefit from today’s contributions to stabilization of fragile countries, he argued. However, the EU cannot do this alone, but will need the support of the US and the UN, as well as the African countries. Still, the European imprint is important, he continued.


Although the EU will never develop into a military alliance, the Union has many tools at its disposal, such as PESCO. It is also aiming to develop a military capacity through the identification of capabilities the EU should have at its disposal, in order to be able to react to a crisis outside Europe. It is thus important to persuade member states to work together.

The engagement of the European Commission provides added value and incentives to this process, Pulkkinen added. Through security and defence cooperation in the EU, the Europeans will benefit more from their investments, he claimed.

Another issue for the defence of Europe is military mobility, something that will be enhanced by better infrastructure. Substantial funds have been allocated, and the development looks very promising, he argued.

Finally, the Lt Gen looked very positively on any potential Norwegian contribution to future EU training missions. European security goes beyond the borders of the institution, and countries like Norway should have a place to contribute.


Under-Secretary of State Anne Sipiläinen, Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs

Anne Sipiläinen, Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Security policy in the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, started her introduction by acknowledging the value of Nordic cooperation for regional security. In turn, she referred to the Finnish white paper on security and defence from 2016, which outlines two key priorities: strengthening the EU as a security community, and deepening cooperation with the Nordic countries.

Joining the EU in 1995 was fundamentally a question of security, she continued, and Finland has ever since attempted to strengthen the EU as a security provider, e.g. by being one of the most eager member states in the PESCO negotiations. The EU can be an enabler and facilitator of defence cooperation, which is especially important in light of the deteriorated security situation, she argued.


For Finland, defence cooperation in the EU serves two purposes. First, the political aim of strengthening the EU as a security community, thus increasing solidarity and bringing the member states closer together through deeper integration. Second, the practical purpose of making the best of scarce resources, thus also making the cooperation meaningful financially.

Important sectors in the EU defence cooperation, in Finland’s view, include crisis management, providing and receiving assistance, responding to hybrid threats, developing defence cooperation and capabilities, creating arrangements for security of supply, as well as strengthening the defence industrial and technological base. PESCO is therefore an important step forward, she argued.


The implementation phase of PESCO includes living up to commitments, e.g. on investments in defence, development capabilities and operational readiness. In the initial phase, Finland participates in three projects: military mobility, radio technology, and cyber. PESCO is different from previous initiatives, as it is for instance legally binding.

Finland is actively pushing for third countries like Norway to be able to participate in PESCO projects. Finland would also like to continue cooperating on security and defence with a coming third country, namely the UK, but there must be a balance between rights and obligations, she argued.


The EU defence cooperation is being developed in close coordination with NATO. The PESCO notification specifies that the commitment and cooperation in the area of common security and defence shall be consistent with commitments within NATO. The key word is thus complementarity, not competition, Sipiläinen ended.


State Secretary Tone Skogen, Norwegian Ministry of Defence

Tone Skogen, State Secretary in the Norwegian Ministry of Defence, started her introduction by pointing out that Norway is already a very close partner to the EU, for instance in the European Defence Agency, and a strong supporter of the EU’s common security and defence policy (CSDP).

In view of Russia’s policies in the Ukraine, Norway has aligned itself closely with the EU sanctions policy, and NATO’s suspension of practical, military cooperation. Still, Norway aims at a balanced approach, which involves continued cooperation with Russia in certain areas, such as Search and Rescue and a hotline between the Joint Operational Headquarters in Bodø and the Northern Fleet.


Norway supports the idea that Europe must take a larger role in security and defence. A coordinated EU that takes greater responsibility is good for transatlantic relations, as an expression of burden sharing. NATO and the EU complement each other, as the former is responsible for creating military deterrence, whereas the latter is vital in terms of political and economic relations with countries at its border, including sanctions.

Since the joint EU-NATO declaration at the NATO summit in Warsaw in 2016, there has been considerable progress. From a Norwegian point of view, it is important to ensure that the new dynamic in the EU’s security and defence does not have negative consequences for any of the parties involved.


A closer involvement in discussions, decision shaping and information sharing would make participation in future CSDP operations and missions more attractive to partners like Norway. Norway would also like to have the opportunity to participate in individual PESCO projects. There is asymmetry between the status Finland and Sweden have in NATO, as enhanced opportunity partners, and the rights Norway has as a third party to the EU, she argued.

For Norway, it is also important to be invited to participate in the second part of the European Defence Fund, the EU Defence Industrial Development Program. This would benefit all parties involved for several reasons:

  • First, Norwegian defence industry is high-tech and internationally competitive.
  • Second, for the EU, Norway is a highly relevant partner, as an integral part of the European defence equipment market.
  • Third, Norwegian defence industry will make a significant contribution to research on defence capabilities.
  • Fourth, Norway would shoulder its own costs linked to this participation, thereby increasing the total spending on development in a cost-effective way.

Despite the room for improvements, Norway values the opportunity to be closely associated with CSDP, and would like to continue to contribute, Skogen ended.


The panel debate was initiated by a question from the moderator, Dr Håkon Lunde Saxi, on the added value of an inclusive PESCO consisting of nearly all EU members, as opposed to the more exclusive version that was initially intended. Lt Gen Pulkkinen argued that the more engagement, the better, although there must still be room for more exclusive projects within the framework of an inclusive PESCO. Iso-Markku added that Brexit was one factor explaining a more inclusive PESCO as it had increased the weight many member states have put on EU unity. However, the core of PESCO is the individual projects, which the member states can choose to participate in or not.

The next question concerned Norwegian-Finnish relations, and how they may be affected by a potentially successful defence cooperation in the EU, which does not allow third country participation. Anne Sipiläinen was convinced that defence cooperation in the EU will be a success, and that third countries will be allowed to participate, considering that all able and willing should be included. However, she also stressed the need for strategic patience in terms of third country arrangements. Tone Skogen agreed, and added that the exclusion of Norway would be a loss both to Norway and to Europe. Focus should therefore rather be on how to include and involve third parties even more.

Dr Saxi then asked whether Norway is actively working towards a similar partnership with the EU as Finland and Sweden have acquired with NATO. State Secretary Skogen replied that Norway would be happy to discuss what the partnership might be called and what it would entail, also pointing out that the most important thing is to find good common solutions.

Furthermore, the moderator pointed out that the UK and the US have been critical to some aspects of PESCO, and in turn asked whether increased defence cooperation in the EU was worth potentially alienating these two important allies. Both Sipiläinen and Lt Gen Pulkkinen argued that there is a lot of support for the EU taking more responsibility in developing defence cooperation, especially in Washington.

The first question from the audience was on what would happen if the PESCO nations infringe the legally binding obligations and commitments. Iso-Markku specified that the member states themselves are responsible for monitoring and sanctioning lack of compliance with commitments, and was thus sceptic to how binding these commitments really are. Lt Gen Pulkkinen exemplified the member states role by pointing out that although the PESCO nations have agreed to increase defence budgets, they did not accept any specific budget criteria, such as the 2% goal in NATO.

Another question from the audience concerned the complementarity between the EU and NATO, particularly concerning projects such as the military mobility initiative, which some members states seem to regard as more needed by NATO than by the EU. Lt Gen Pulkkinen responded that his view was rather that EU members were positive towards initiatives such as that on military mobility and improving infrastructure. Iso-Markku pointed out that there is potential for lack of complementarity, as NATO and the EU are still so different actors.


State Secretary Audun Halvorsen, Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Audun Halvorsen, State Secretary in the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ended the conference with a few concluding remarks. In Norway’s strategy for cooperating with the EU 2018-2021, the Government has identified three key priorities within security and defence. First, further to develop political dialogue and coordination with the EU. Second, to strengthen Norway’s practical cooperation with the EU. Third, to promote favourable conditions for Norwegian defence industry.

The State Secretary ended by declaring that Norway is seeking the closest possible cooperation with the EU, and that Norway participating in specific PESCO projects would be favourable for both parties.

Summary written by Joakim Erma Møller
Photos: Anna Therese Klingstedt

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