EUROPEUM Institute for European Policy

In November 2017, EU Member States expressed their will to create a Permanent Structured Cooperation on security and defence (PESCO)[1]. Twenty-Five Member States of the European Union have singed and published a list of projects that will be implemented under PESCO. Many areas of security are included under these projects, and this article aims to understand the impact that PESCO will have on migration.

  • Security and migration already linked under the CSDP
  • Possible projects involved in migration management under PESCO
  • Implementing cooperation on border protection and maritime security
  • Fighting cross-border crime and disrupting smuggling networks and thus saving more lives.
  • Ensuring security at the external border of the European Union.

PESCO is a specific CSDP (Common Security and Defence Policy) flexibility mechanism introduced by the Treaty of Lisbon with the aim of allowing Member States to voluntary join a binding commitment in the cooperation in the area of defence and security.

The cooperation is expected to ensure more protection to European citizens and to increase the efficiency of Member states on defence by combing security and defence resources and knowledges. The participants to PESCO have identified a preliminary list of 17 projects, which are most likely to be accepted at the beginning of 2018. Almost all Member States are participating in PESCO except for the United Kingdom, Denmark and Malta.

Current CSDP programs on migration

After the Refugee crisis of 2015 a more comprehensive approach was adopted by the European Union on managing migration: managing external crises became an integral part of it, and it came to encompass CSDP (The Common Security and Defence Policy) tools mainly on the field of irregular migration in the Central Mediterranean Route and the Sahel region.

Different activities were launched after 2015 on securing external borders and the most significant measures that were taken were the European Agenda on Migration, the European Border and Coast Guard Regulation, Smart Borders and EUROSUR.[2]

The aim is to support host countries by providing training and advice for military and security forces, to build institutions for the sustainable rule of law, and thus to build local capacity with the main objective of creating the conditions for economic growth and prosperity.

As mentioned previously, the comprehensive approach on migration includes some tools of the CSDP. An example is the surveillance of borders and the prevention of illegal border crossing especially for land and sea borders put in place under the CSDP. Additionally, another tool is the process of treating irregular migrants; this includes mainly the provision of training and technical support including capacity building for “hotspots”. Likewise, CSDP’ tools include law enforcement activities to tackle smugglers’ networks by strengthening intelligence sharing among member states and by reforming the security sector of country of transit or origin[3].


Possible link between PESCO and Migration

The new cooperation under PESCO could also include projects on the security of external borders mainly linked as mentioned with irregular migration and cross border crime.

Since the eruption of the Refugee crisis, Italy has been taking over the management of the Central Mediterranean route, especially with Mare Nostrum, a mission carried out by the Italian Marine that was later replaced a mission of the EU agency FRONTEX called Triton. This agency has many tasks including monitoring migration flows, monitoring the management of the external border, coordinating and organising joint operations at external borders and deploying European Border and Coast Guard teams.

One of the pilot projects proposed is on Harbour & Maritime Surveillance and Protection (HARMSPRO). The project aims to cooperate and deliver a system of maritime sensors, software and platforms, which could be used to detect potential maritime threats as smuggling of goods and of people. This is only one the initial list of the permanent cooperation projects. Moreover, many other perspectives remain open for future involvement of PESCO in the field of migration and, particularly on implementing the role of existing and future missions of the European External Action in military field related to migration. This leads to two possible scenarios under PESCO on migration:

  • Implementing cooperation with the European Border and Coast Guard and specialised European Union agencies to improve border protection and maritime security with the objective of fighting cross-border crime and disrupting smuggling networks and thus saving more lives.
  • Ensuring security at the external border of the European Union.

This could be an important step forward on sharing the control of the common external border: since the creation of the Schengen area, internal borders disappeared and accessing the EU has remained possible through frontline Member States and airports. It is clear that the Schengen regime has to be supported by a common mechanism of control in the external border of the European Union, and by doing so a cooperation on defence and security could only ease procedures and lighten the load on frontline Member States.

PESCO is still at an early phase and not much has been done yet. Thus, it will be important to monitor the implementation of these 17 projects in 2018 and see the outcome of the cooperation at the beginning of 2019 to start understanding how this Permanent Structure will work and will enhance the efficiency of defence and security in relation to migration.

Benedetta Fornaciari da Passano



[1] Foreign Affairs Council, 13/11/2017 ( )

[2] “EUROSUR is the information-exchange framework designed to improve the management of Europe’s external borders. It aims to support Member States by increasing their situational awareness and reaction capability in combating cross-border crime, tackling irregular migration and preventing loss of migrant lives at sea”, FRONTEX ( ).


[3] Migration-how CSDP can support, European Security and Defence College, 2016 ( )

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