Cleared from scrutiny; further information requested; drawn to the attention of the Defence Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee
Commission Communication: Action Plan on Military Mobility
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
(39606), 7633/18, JOIN(18) 5
10.1As part of the new framework for ‘Permanent Structured Cooperation’ (PESCO) in the area of defence, twenty-four EU Member States are participating in a new project to reduce barriers to the smooth movement of troops and military equipment throughout the EU. This would make military deployments both in and outside of the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy—more efficient. More information on the specific work to be undertaken as part of this intergovernmental project is expected later in 2018, after the participating countries establish the formal governance framework for PESCO in June.
10.2In recognition of the specific nature of the barriers to military mobility, some of which fall within the EU’s legislative competence (customs and goods regulations) or could benefit from financial support from the EU budget (improvements to dual-use transport infrastructure), the PESCO project should be seen as part of a wider EU-level programme of work to reduce such obstacles. In March 2018, the European Commission—based on a 2017 policy paper and further preparatory work undertaken by the European Defence Agency—published an ‘Action Plan on Military Mobility’. Its purpose is to identify “a series of operational measures to tackle physical, procedural or regulatory barriers which hamper military mobility”, namely:
10.3We have described the proposed actions in more detail in “Background” below. As part of a ‘Community’ approach, any legislative or regulatory action would in principle apply to all Member States (and not just the twenty-four countries part of the PESCO project on military mobility).
10.4The Minister for Europe (Sir Alan Duncan) submitted an Explanatory Memorandum on the Action Plan in April 2018. It reiterates the Government’s support for the EU’s efforts to “improve Military Mobility across Europe and to resolve common impediments”, and supports the Commission’s proposed actions (especially were the EU could address regulatory issues through “innovative solutions”). The Minister also emphasises the UK’s view that “NATO’s role is crucial in the delivery of the action plan” and that “the Alliance’s requirements are effectively incorporated as part of the implementation”. With respect to the extent to which the UK—after Brexit—might benefit from any EU regulatory or legislative simplifications that will ease movements of troops and military equipment, the Memorandum reiterates the Government’s ambition for a “deep and special partnership on security and defence [with] unprecedented levels of practical cooperation”.
10.5We thank the Minister for his latest Explanatory Memorandum on the EU’s military mobility project. We note the Government has taken an interest in this project and supports it politically. We stand by our Report of November 2017, in which we concluded that the impact on the UK of any initiatives to facilitate military mobility within the EU is not yet clear because of the uncertainty about the shape of the post-Brexit relationship with the EU on all areas covered by the latest Action Plan (defence, customs, and transport). The Government has not published a draft legal text to operationalise its ambition for an “unprecedented” new foreign policy partnership with the EU, meaning that we cannot say with any certainty what the policy, legal and financial implications for the UK would be if it wanted to maintain close involvement in the EU’s foreign policy structures when it ceases to be a Member State.
10.6With respect to UK participation in any EU-led military mobility projects after Brexit, it is important to distinguish between actions undertaken by Member State governments within PESCO to remove barriers to military mobility (which will be intergovernmental and diplomatic in nature, for example by facilitating permissions for entry and exit of foreign troops), and the wider efforts led by the European Commission to address infrastructure, customs and regulatory barriers to movements of troops and equipment.
10.7Participation by the UK in the PESCO project would not automatically extend to the UK the application of any regulatory or customs reliefs that may be pursued as part of the wider ‘Community’ approach to military mobility, as those are likely to apply only to the members of the Single Market and the Customs Union. The Government has committed to leaving both. For example, the Dangerous Goods Directive—which may be extended to military convoys—applies only to transports that take place wholly within the Single Market. The extension of any regulatory simplifications to military transports between the UK and the EU would therefore likely be dependent on the Government applying the relevant legislation (which in turn means the impact is closely linked to the overall future trade agreement, and the extent to which it may tie the UK to continued regulatory alignment with the EU to facilitate trade in goods in particular).
10.8Similarly, any financial support from the EU budget for improvements to cross-border transport infrastructure (as well as the new European Defence Fund for the development of new military technology) will be focused primarily on EU Member States. The Government has not provided any detail about the size and scope of the financial contribution it would be willing to make to preserve access to specific EU funding programmes after the end of the post-Brexit financial settlement as currently agreed (which will keep the UK as a participant in EU spending programmes until 31 December 2020). The Government has told us with respect to continued UK involvement in the EU’s Framework Programme for Research after Brexit that “all of the necessary arrangements are in place for 31 December 2020. We are confident that the UK will be ready”. We presume the same ambition applies to agreements for other programmes in which the UK wishes to participate after the post-Brexit transitional arrangement ends, such as the European Defence Fund.
10.9In light of the Government’s interest in the Military Mobility project, and its unclear policy and financial implications for the UK, we draw the document to the attention of the Defence Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee. We now clear it from scrutiny, but ask the Minister to write to us with further information on the EU ‘military requirements’ that will be drawn up by the European External Action Service before any formal approval of them takes place within the Foreign Affairs Council later this year.
10.10As part of the 2016 European Defence Action Plan, the European Commission committed to “increase coherence and synergies between defence issues and other Union policies where an EU added-value exists”. In November 2017 twenty-five EU Member States—all except the UK, Denmark and Malta—triggered a possibility under the EU Treaty to establish “Permanent Structured Cooperation” (PESCO) on defence matters, as a possible precursor to a ‘common EU defence’. PESCO requires the participating countries to make concrete commitments to improve the EU’s collective defence, for example by increasing their defence budgets and by working together closely on improving and integrating their military capabilities.
10.11PESCO is structured around individual projects, participation is voluntary by the participating countries on a case-by-case basis. Involvement by non-EU Member States, such as the UK after Brexit, will be subject to separate legal arrangements which are yet to be established. In March 2018, the 25 participating Member States formally adopted the initial list of seventeen PESCO projects, which—on average—have seven participating countries each.
10.12The most popular project, in which all PESCO countries except Ireland are involved, is the one that seeks to enhance “Military Mobility” within the EU. The Netherlands, whose Government is the project lead, described its objective as follows:
“This project will support Member States’ commitment to simplify and standardise cross-border military transport procedures. It aims to enhance the speed of movement of military forces across Europe. It aims to guarantee the unhindered movement of military personnel and assets within the borders of the EU.
This entails avoiding long bureaucratic procedures to move through or over EU Member States, be it via rail, road, air or sea. The project should help to reduce barriers such as legal hurdles to cross-border movement, lingering bureaucratic requirements (such as passport checks at some border crossings) and infrastructure problems, like roads and bridges that cannot accommodate large military vehicles.”
10.13Because the project seeks to address regulatory hurdles to the movement of both troops and material within the EU, the ‘military mobility’ project—uniquely among the initial list of PESCO work-streams—partially relies on changes to wider EU policy that affect the movement of goods and people, such as customs and transport legislation. This, in turn, means the project is reliant in part on the support of the European Commission and the European Parliament, especially where measures to facilitate military convoys require adaption of EU law or funding from the EU budget. Any resulting improvements to the mobility of forces would “enhance European security […] in the context of Common Security and Defence Policy missions and operations, as well as national and multinational activities”, such as NATO operations.
10.14In recognition of the ‘Community’ element of the Military Mobility project, the European Commission in November 2017 published a policy paper setting out its initial assessment of EU-level initiatives that could facilitate the movement of both military personnel and equipment within the EU. Although it acknowledges that it remains the sovereign decision of each Member State whether to allow foreign troops into its territory, the Commission argues that certain obstacles—physical, legal and regulatory in nature—could be addressed to allow EU countries to move troops and equipment “swiftly and smoothly” where they have decided to deploy them. These obstacles included gaps in Europe’s physical infrastructure that can support military transport, as well as the legal and regulatory framework governing transport of both personnel and equipment (for example export and import formalities for dangerous goods).
10.15To address these barriers, the Commission envisaged that EU legislation or non-legislative initiatives would contribute to resolving barriers to military transports, noting that these areas are “subject to legislation, procedures and investment instruments which would need to be adapted, including at EU level, to make them suitable for military uses”. It made a number of provisional recommendations for EU action:
10.16The Foreign Affairs Council welcomed the Commission’s intentions at its meeting on 13 November 2017. In December 2017 military mobility was added to the common set of new proposals for the implementation of the EU-NATO Joint Declaration of July 2016. Furthermore, that same month the European Council invited the European Commission and the Member States to bring work forward on military mobility, both within PESCO and in the context of EU-NATO cooperation.
10.17In September 2017, the European Defence Agency (EDA) had already established a dedicated Working Group to support the elaboration of a follow-on Action Plan on Military Mobility by spring 2018. The objectives of the working group were to identify obstacles and barriers to cross-border movement and surface transit of military personnel and assets and translate these into an Action Plan with “dedicated tasks and responsibilities including a roadmap with timelines”. The Working Group reported back to the EDA’s Steering Board in February 2018, setting out the “tasks, responsibilities and ambitious timelines for improving military mobility” in four areas: legal aspects; customs; military requirements, including infrastructure-related military standards; and cross-border movement permissions, including diplomatic clearances.
10.18Based on the EDA’s preparatory work, the Commission published a more detailed Military Mobility Action Plan with more concrete details about the planned next steps in March 2018. The document identifies the following initiatives to be undertaken at EU-level:
10.19The Foreign Affairs Council will be asked to sign off on the EU’s “military requirements” by summer 2018. The European Commission is due to present a first progress report on the implementation of the Military Mobility Action Plan by summer 2019, when the UK is expected to have formally ceased being an EU Member State. Any substantial regulatory reforms or dedicated financial support from the EU budget would follow from 2020 onwards.
10.20Following the publication of the European Commission’s initial policy paper on military mobility in autumn 2017, the Government told us that it recognises “the need to improve military mobility within Europe and to resolve common impediments across the areas outlined [by the Commission]”. The Minister for Europe (Sir Alan Duncan) added at the time that “the UK will be keen to ensure that the proposed work-plan is taken forward with key stakeholders outside of the EU, particularly NATO”, as otherwise “there is considerable risk of duplication and for any proposed action plan to be substantially less valuable”.
10.21While the UK is not a formal participant in PESCO or its Military Mobility project, the Government has supported its launch, as well as consistently calling for a legal framework—which is still being discussed by the participating countries—that will allow non-EU countries to request involvement in specific PESCO work-streams. This would enable the Ministry of Defence and UK industry to seek participation in individual projects after Brexit on a case-by-case basis. The UK has actively participated in the European Defence Agency’s working group which provided the basis for the more recent Military Mobility Action Plan. In addition, on 13 November 2017, the Foreign Secretary supported an invitation to the Commission to “consider comprehensively the infrastructural, procedural and regulatory issues in light of the military requirements defined by Member States to facilitate mobility of personnel and assets across the EU”.
10.22After the latest Action Plan was published in March 2018, the Minister for Europe submitted a further Explanatory Memorandum on the Government’s position on military mobility. It reiterates UK support for the project:
“The Government agrees with the content of the Action Plan and its recommendations to undertake further work under the key headings. The UK has experienced first-hand how issues with European transport infrastructure can hinder our ability to rapidly move forces and we are also committed to exploring innovative solutions to improve regulatory issues. The EU is well-placed with its existing competences to support this work, while respecting the sovereignty of national decision-making bodies.”
10.23However, the Minister also emphasises that NATO must play a role in the delivery of the Action Plan so that “any work is fully coherent with existing NATO work strands, and that the Alliance’s requirements are effectively incorporated as part of the implementation”. The Minister recognises that the levers available to the EU that are not available to NATO—in particular regulatory and legislative action—may pose an obstacle to the UK’s full involvement in the fruits of the Military Mobility project in the context of its withdrawal from the EU. He reiterates the Government’s ambition of a “deep and special partnership on security and defence” with “unprecedented levels of practical cooperation in tackling common threats building on our shared values and interests”. He concludes by saying that, while the UK remains a full member of the EU, the Government will “engage with the specific initiatives outlined in the Action Plan to assess where the government could negotiate future participation where it is mutually beneficial”.
10.24With respect to UK participation in any EU efforts to enhance military mobility after Brexit, it is important to distinguish between actions undertaken by Member State governments within PESCO to remove barriers to military mobility (which will be intergovernmental and diplomatic in nature, for example by facilitating permissions for entry and exit of foreign troops), and the wider efforts led by the European Commission to address infrastructure, customs and regulatory barriers to troop and equipment transports. Participation by the UK in the PESCO project on military mobility would not automatically extend to the UK the application of any regulatory or customs reliefs that may be pursued as part of the wider ‘Community’ approach to military mobility, as those are likely to apply only to the members of the Single Market and the Customs Union.
Seventh Report HC 301–vii (2017–19)(19 December 2017).
103 All Member States except the UK, Malta and Denmark are participants in PESCO. Out of those twenty-five countries, only Ireland is not part of the Military Mobility project.
104 See our on PESCO for more information.
105 See our .
106 See Commission document .
107 European Commission, ““ (28 March 2018).
108 submitted by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (19 April 2018).
115 See for more information on PESCO our previous Reports of and .
116 PESCO does not affect the veto of each EU Member State over CSDP operations and other EU foreign policy measures under the Treaties, or their right to decide unilaterally whether to deploy military personnel or equipment to specific operations or missions.
117 See .
118 See .
119 The Commission added, without elaborating, that “EU legislation in other areas could also be looked at for possible relevance to military mobility”.
120 The EDA already operates the , which aims to harmonise procedures for overflights and landings of 16 EU Member States’ military aircraft (the UK is not a signatory). The arrangement enables the signatory countries to operate without the need to submit diplomatic requests for each flight, with an annual diplomatic clearance number issued. It includes a dedicated online portal to provide basic transparency on national policies and procedures for granting diplomatic clearances for military transport aircraft.
121 Such gaps can include, for example, maximum height clearances underneath road bridges; the weight tolerance of bridges; or loading gauges on railways.
122 Currently, such funding is provided primarily from the Connecting Europe Facility. The EU budget cannot be used for transport infrastructure that is exclusively for military use.
123 For military transports, Member States apply their own national rules when authorising transports of dangerous goods by other armed forces (which “requires ad hoc authorisations and creates delays”).
124 Articles 226(3)(e) and 227(2)(e) of the Union Customs Code allow NATO form 302 to be used as Union transit document. However, some EU Member States have reported operational difficulties resulting from a lack of clarity as regards the use of form 302 for temporary export and re-import of military goods by or on behalf of the armed forces of the EU Member States.
Published: 8 May 2018