PESCO is not solely an initiative focused on capability projects – The crucial role of the EDA in coordinating the race for capabilities

Interview with Martin Konertz, Director Capabilities, Armament & Technology, EDA, Brussels

“PESCO will be successful if it can strike the right security and defence balance between the European and the various national perspectives.”

photo: © European Defence Agency

The Bratislava European Summit, in September 2016, brought a new impetus and awareness that Europe must revitalise defence cooperation against the backdrop of increasing security challenges. Since then we have witnessed the emergence of several existing EU defence initiatives such as the Coordinated Annual Review on Defence (CARD) as part of the implementation of the new European Global Strategy, the establishment of the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) and the launch of the European Defence Fund (EDF) by the European Commission. But what role does the European Defence Agency (EDA) have to play to ensure coherence among them? Hartmut Bühl met with EDA Director Martin Konertz in Brussels to hear his perspective of the ongoing developments.

The European: Mr Konertz, you are one of the three Directors of the EDA, responsible for Capabilities, Armament & Technology (CAT). Could you describe your mission as the CAT Director?

Martin Konertz: The Agency supports its Member States and the EU-Council in their efforts to improve European defence capabilities. One of the key tasks of the CAT Directorate is to generate collaborative projects related to capability development together with interested Member States. That also entails system related projects with a Research and Technology (R&T) background. One of the major objectives is to develop common staff targets and requirements as well as business cases for Member States who participate in the projects. This harmonisation of requirements is an essential part of collaborative capability development.

The European: And with regards to the new EU defence initiative, PESCO?

Martin Konertz: The CAT Directorate is responsible for contributing to the PESCO Secretariat, a new unit within the Directorate that runs the assessment of project proposals handed in by PESCO Member States, as well as the annual assessment of their National Implementation Plans (NIPs). My task as CAT Director is to set the objectives for the units and coordinate their work. This entails overseeing that our products are developed in a cross-directorate manner.

The European: What is the exact role of the newly created PESCO Secretariat?

Martin Konertz: The PESCO Secretariat is composed of the European External Action Service, including the EU Military Staff (EUMS) and the EDA. It delivers secretariat functions to the High Representative/Vice President. As laid down in the Council Decision of December 2017, these functions mainly include the assessment of NIPs and PESCO project proposals. The EDA assesses them from a capability perspective, while the EUMS does the same from an operational viewpoint. Based on this assessment, the High Representative recommends PESCO projects to the Council for approval.

The European: On what criteria are you working?

Martin Konertz: The EDA and EUMS have developed transparent assessment criteria for the capability and operational perspectives respectively. The former is designed around the EU Capability Development Priorities (CDP) and the likely impact of the project proposals on the coherence of the European capability landscape. Moreover, the EDA is also looking to avoid duplication, be it in an EU or NATO context.

The European: Since its very beginnings, the EDA has been striving to create a certain coherence of capabilities, standardisation of weapon systems and coordination of R&T. It seems only now that Member States are willing to create a “full spectrum force”. What will be the outcome?

Martin Konertz: The EDA plays an important role in the implementation of PESCO. Let me recall two important aspects. Firstly, the real power and value of PESCO lie in the 20 more binding commitments which could be seen as the basic plan to implement it. Its Member States committed themselves to report back through NIPs. Thereby PESCO becomes a tool and an obligation for Member States to take defence cooperation to another level. Secondly, PESCO should be regarded in conjunction with CARD, which provides an overview of the entire European defence capability landscape and serves as a pathfinder for collaborative opportunities. PESCO should also be seen in relation with the new EU Capability Development Priorities (EU CDP) approved by Member States in June 2018. They provide the baseline for collaborative capability development.

The European: But can you explain what is behind the Member States’ new willingness to cooperate in this way and how will this work?

Martin Konertz: I am not sure that we can speak about a ‘new willingness’. We have already seen collaborative initiatives in the past, such as Pooling & Sharing and Smart Defence in a NATO context. Today, we have a rapidly changing security environment and increasing defence budgets in many Member States. In addition, we are seeing a growing common understanding that capability requirements and increasing national budgets alone are not sufficient to overcome the biggest and most obvious gap: the lack of coherence across the European capability landscape. With the CDP, CARD and PESCO we now have operational tools to tackle this problem over time and in a continuous manner.

The European: In recent years, the EDA has launched concrete projects in different areas. Will these projects be integrated into PESCO, or will PESCO efforts be established around these projects?

Martin Konertz: The EDA generates and launches capability related projects in a variety of areas and the configuration of participating Member States differs from project to project. PESCO, however, is a Member State-driven process. In other words: PESCO Member States lead the generation and proposal of projects. It is the Council that decides which of the proposed projects will be taken on. As laid down in the Council Decisions on PESCO, the EDA has the task of facilitating capability development and supporting Member States in ensuring that there is no unnecessary duplication with existing initiatives or in other institutional contexts. The ongoing capability related projects are owned by the contributing Member States. It is up to them to decide whether they propose them as PESCO projects or not. PESCO has just started but is designed to take a permanent character. We should give it some time to grow. I am convinced that we should also base our future efforts on the outcomes of the first full CARD cycle and the documents implementing the new EU Capability Development Priorities.

The European: You are somehow optimistic that all this might work, but will Member States be able to realise at “home” that future systems will no longer be national, but European, with technologies to be shared in every way? What about the sense of cooperation versus national egoism?

Martin Konertz: Looking at the legal basis of PESCO and the notification of PESCO Member States, PESCO is not about multinationally owned capabilities. The projects are designed to deliver capabilities in a collaborative manner. But we must not forget that these capabilities and the related contributions from PESCO Member States are still owned and operated by themselves, not by somebody else.

The European: PESCO aims at bringing Member States’ defence apparatuses in line with each other…

Martin Konertz: … and to make them more and more convergent! This will not be achieved overnight and requires further political and planning efforts. At the end of the day, PESCO will be successful if it can strike the right security and defence balance between the European and various national perspectives. To ensure Member States’ commitment, it is essential that the national benefits become evident and visible in a convincing manner.

The European: Projects are the visible part of PESCO. But isn’t it more important that Member States make PESCO a real tool to take defence cooperation to new political and credible horizons?

Martin Konertz: If you look at the projects, it becomes obvious that PESCO must not be seen in isolation, but in conjunction with CARD and the new CDP. It is only together that they can fully incentivise Member States to shape their defence capability profiles, taking into account the overall European perspective which will help to achieve a more coherent European capability landscape over time.

The European: How does the EDA establish projects and bring nations together to commit to finally creating – as far as possible – a coherent set of capabilities which are credible through their interoperability, the ability to deploy and sustainability?

Martin Konertz: The EDA is the major intergovernmental prioritisation instrument at the European level. The EDA does not impose requirements and priorities on its Member States but it supports them in implementing capability priorities in a collaborative manner. Our baseline for generating collaborative projects is the new CDP which was derived from many inputs, including the EU Military Committee, but also from Member States’ long-term capability development views. Through our continuous dialogue with our Member States, we are in a position to provide an overview of the entire European capability landscape. Based on this, the Agency is also in a position to identify and propose potential opportunities for collaboration and to provide customised assistance to the Member States concerned.

The European: How do you verify the reliability of nations in their efforts to heighten defence capabilities? What are the criteria and will you be able to avoid duplication?

Martin Konertz: Clearly, the Agency does not verify the reliability of its Member States. The Agency has been given a clear task by the Council to support Member States in avoiding duplication. To this end we build on the oversight that we have of the European capability landscape and on our awareness and knowledge of the related collaborative activities Member States are involved in. That applies also to activities in a NATO context. Based on this, each PESCO project proposal will be assessed and the proposing Member States will receive a recommendation on ‘next steps’ which provide feasible ways ahead to avoid duplication, to establish complementarity with ongoing activities and/or to simply clarify by providing more information.

The European: Can you also influence NATO projects?

Martin Konertz: The EDA clearly does not influence NATO projects. The EDA provides an overview and advice on possible roadmaps for cooperation and assistance from its Member States. The Agency’s staff-to-staff contacts at the EU and NATO aim to contribute to the coherence of the output as laid down in the EU-NATO Joint Declaration signed in Warsaw in 2016.

The European: Besides PESCO, national bilateral or trilateral cooperation activities (e.g. France-United Kingdom; Germany- Sweden and many others) continue. Will you have a say on these?

Martin Konertz: Obviously, bilateral and trilateral cooperation is also taking place outside the EDA framework. This has been the case in the past and will continue in the future.
But the new products the Agency is delivering – from the 11 new EU Capability Development Priorities and the Strategic Context Cases to implement them, to the CARD report and the PESCO assessments – represent a consistent and coherent toolset. It aims to inform Member States’ decision-making. Since Member States have only a single set of forces at their disposal, these new products may serve as sound guidance and a path towards a more coherent European capability landscape.

Photo: EDA

Martin Konertz
has been the Director Capability, Armament & Technology at the European Defence Agency since 2018. He joined the Bundeswehr in 1976 and has held positions as Chief of Multinational Defence Planning at the MOD in Berlin, Deputy Adviser of the German Permanent Representative to NATO, Deputy Chief of Staff at the BW Strategic Reconnaissance Command, and Commander of the 5th Signal battalion & HQ in Koblenz. He holds a Masters from the Royal Military College of Science in the UK and has completed the CHEM course at the Ecole Militaire in Paris and the General Staff course in Hamburg.


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