European Defence and the Environment

Why You Should Vote: The Stakes of the 2019 Elections

Part I: European Defence and the Environment

By Dominik Rehbaum and Moritz Osterhuber

The European approach to defence policy and climate change are two of the issues set to shape the legislative agenda of the 2019-2024 European Parliament and the incoming Commission. Only at first sight do they appear unrelated. US diplomats fought hard to secure exemptions of environmental commitments for the military at the Kyoto negotiations in 1997. According to a study by the Transnational Institute (TNI), the US military is the single largest user of petroleum on the planet and countless wars have been fought over control of fossil fuels and resources. Therefore, there may very well be an interesting and often overlooked interrelation. But the topics of course retain their significance as stand-alone future challenges for the European Union. The future of the protective military shield that the US hegemony expands over Europe is increasingly subject to debate as the US administration demands more military spending and burden-sharing from Europeans. At the same time, climate change is set to concern the policy decisions of generations to come and decisive action is needed if the EU is to comply with its commitments at the 2015 landmark Paris Agreement.

A European Army?


Strategic autonomy and military cooperation are two of the most referenced terms during the different campaigns ahead of the 2019 elections to the EP. The military tumult in Ukraine and the still-raging war in Syria together with a drastic change in transatlantic foreign policy as of the 2016 presidential election in the US demanded Europe to revise its common approach not only towards military spending in the various member states but in fact regarding common strategic autonomy. While some European leaders, most prominently French President Emmanuel Macron, unleashed a heated debate to go beyond military cooperation in the framework of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), others such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel reiterated a national approach to defence and denounced floating ideas of European armies. Nonetheless, the discussion about any kind of European army beholds since the foundation of the Coal and Steel Community in 1953 in European societies – looking at the current state of discussion, however, with limited success.

Today, we want to ask what EP party groups have to say vis-à-vis military cooperation and strategic autonomy of Europe.

European People's Party

With regards to hybrid warfare, cyber-attacks and new forms of terrorism, the EPP highlights that individual countries are no longer capable of managing their own defence. Consequently, the EPP seeks to boost defence spending, especially investment in research and design. A pure soft power approach cannot be considered sufficient and instead, the EPP aims to create via pooling military capacities of member states to create a real defence capacity by 2030 – a European Defence Union. However, a Defence Union shall not replace existing structures such as national armies, but in fact strengthen national forces. At the same time, the Union would remain committed to NATO and would not prejudice the specific character of the security and defence policy of certain member states. Finally, a European Cyber Brigade shall be established within 2 years to make sure Europe is able to thwart cyber-attacks.

Find out more:

Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats

Instead of the current private arbitration system that decides on the distribution of development assistance, the S&D Group wants to invest 0.7%/GNI in official development assistance to strengthen partnerships with developing countries. In this regard, Frans Timmermans oftentimes mentions his proposed “reconciliation with Africa”. Furthermore, common European Defence by means of pooling and sharing resources to ensure peace and security in cooperation with NATO and other international organisations remains the long-term goal of the S&D group. Consequently, the party group seeks to establish a common European Army that is overseen by the European Parliament.

Read more at:

Greens–European Free Alliance

The Greens pronounce the need for common security and defence policy by means of pooling and sharing resources and effective coordination between member states’ efforts on the European level. However, Europe should not seek profits from unscrupulous arms exports and surveillance technologies. The Greens demand therefore stringent export guidelines. Simultaneously, Europe should increase its development cooperation funding to reach at least 0.7%/GDP while raising expenditures on conflict prevention, resolution and moderation. Finally, these instruments can only materialise within an environment of multilateralism, international justice, rule of law and the protection of human rights. Arms exports to dictatorships and warring parties should thus be stopped immediately. The EU and national authorities need to work harder and better together to prevent and combat terrorism.

Check out the Green Manifesto:

The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) Party

In the past, ALDE endorsed greater European cooperation in defence spending in areas of mutual advantage complementary to NATO, which would remain the backbone of military cooperation and guarantor of collective security. In the long run, ALDE MEPs support more interlocking and interoperable European forces. In order to secure external borders or to fight terrorism, Europe would need greater cooperation intelligence sharing, and greater capacity across EU institutions and member states to counter disinformation campaigns, cyber espionage and crime.

Find out more in the in ALDE’s Manifesto:

Takeaways of European Defence and Strategic Autonomy

Today, the term “European Army” remains blurry and one cannot help wondering to what extent party programmes resonate with current realities? First of all, one can detect significant transformations in the past two years after about 60 years of discussions without tangible outcomes. The introduction of the Permanent Strategic Cooperation (Pesco) and Coordinated Annual Review on Defence (CARD) are not only defence flagships of the Union, but they are in fact first concrete steps towards some sort of permanent cooperation. What is more, the European Commission actively puts forward concrete proposals for a Defence Union. Even though one cannot speak of any sort of common army, these innovations surely mark milestones in the process of military integration. Therefore, despite the fact that a  European Army might not materialise any time soon, it certainly enhanced debates on how Europeans organise strategic autonomy in the future and the party groups display a variety of approaches towards future military cooperation.

The 2019-2024 European Parliament: Prospects for Environmental Policy

In the 1970s acid rain served as the perhaps most powerful reminder for Europeans that changes in the environment are not retained by national borders. As such, heads of state and government demanded environmental policy at EU level for the first time when they gathered for the Paris Summit (how fitting) in 1972. As there was no explicit legal ground for environmental policy in the EEC Treaties, the approach stood on shaky feet at first; but the ECJ soon confirmed that policy action on the environment is an essential goal of the Community as its founding fathers pledged to improve living and working conditions in the Preamble of the Rome Treaty.

Today, some political parties again seek to extend national sovereignty to the environment, often contesting the role of human activity in climate change. Needless to say that this is an approach not at the height of recent (and, in fact, not so recent) scientific discoveries. The EU itself, in contrast, has come a long way in institutionalising environmental action. There is a designated committee in the European Parliament (ENVI) and a specific arrangement in the European Council that has regular meetings every three months. Article 3 TEU and Article 11 TFEU confirm that sustainable development is a key objective in all EU activities - internally and externally in dealings with the wider world. Environmental policy therefore has a firm legal base in the Lisbon Treaty and is decided by the Parliament and the Council in the co-decision procedure (Articles 191-193 TFEU).

Things become more tricky when environmental policy is primarily ‘of a fiscal matter’, in which case the rule in the relevant Council formation is unanimity. Member states have preserved their prerogative on taxation and fiscal policy more broadly. As a result, the EU is little more than an intergovernmental body with an impulse-giving or advising role in these finance- and tax-related fields. It is therefore not hard to see why progress on implementing a Union-wide CO2 tax, abolishing national subsidies for fossil fuel (do the gilets jaunes protests still ring a bell, Mr. Macron?) or levying taxes on kerosine has been slow. Current stagnation can largely be attributed to the legal controversy which decision-making procedure to apply and the veto power of Member States in the Council if fiscal matters are concerned.

Despite these problems, the EU prides itself with some of the toughest environmental standards on the planet that cause headaches not only for car manufacturers. In 2005, the EU also launched the first and to date biggest Emissions Trading system (ETS) that works according to a ‘cap and trade’ logic. Under this scheme, the EU issues a set number of permits that allow industries to emit CO2. With decreasing supply of permits, their price rises and transitioning to more sustainable ways of production becomes more attractive. The programme aims to reduce CO2 emissions by 43% by 2030 in relation to 2005 levels. This is the neat market rationale; yet, a 2018 report by the OECD concludes that permit prices are “too low to have a significant impact on curbing climate change”, the ETS only covers 45% of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions and the EU continues to freely allocate permits to pollute even beyond 2020. This largely happens due to concerns of carbon leakage, whereby EU markets loose global competitiveness by implementing harsher regulations. It is thus doubtful whether the ETS will enable the EU to meet its commitments under the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.

Environmental Agendas in EP Party Groups


This is only a fraction of the current environmental policy in force and the proposals floating around the hallways in the European Parliament. Future environmental action on the European level will crucially depend on the seat distribution in the 2019-2024 Parliament and the formation of the incoming Commission. The strongest advocate for decisive environmental action for the next legislative period is perhaps somewhat naturally the parliamentary group the Greens/EFA that aims to prioritise humans and nature over corporate profits. We have assembled a comprehensive overview of the Greens’ political agenda in one of our earlier posts. The European left (GUE/NGL) traditionally employs strong language when talking about environmental action. For them the central malaise is the Capitalist system that creates overexploitation of resources and excessive emissions. Their declared aim is a rigorously decarbonised circular economy built on progressive trade policies, broad international alliances, a large-scale green investment programme and most importantly a legal base for ‘climate justice’ in the European Treaties. The EPP also names climate change as a legislative priority but its proposals don’t share the emotional language or ambitious policy changes of the left and green party groups. They aim to revise waste legislation and promote ‘shared efforts’ to reduce emissions. Like many Euro-Sceptics and right-leaning parties, the Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF) sees its priorities of action elsewhere. They focus primarily on the key issues of democracy, sovereignty and identity and seem to not have a strong profile on environmental policy. The S&D group combines a commitment to climate action and the circular economy with a renewal of European industries that would bring new jobs and growth. Their environmental approach is intricately linked to investment in green technology, research and energy. Further focal points of the programme include sustainable agriculture and fisheries.

BridgeEurope has assembled the key proposals of four major party groups in the European Parliament ahead of this year’s elections. These can be found in our series #EP2019. Already next week we will have a better understanding what Europeans want the future of their Union to look like. It is a future shaped partly by discussions on European defence and environmental policy. There is still a long way to go for European topics to get the attention they deserve and for all parts of the political spectrum to be engaged in a European transnational debate. It starts by being informed and casting the ballot this weekend.