* An EU army would be a shift towards territorial defence, far beyond the ambitions of CSDP
Britain’s eurosceptics have spent years frightening people with the idea of an ‘EU Army’. It should not come as a surprise, therefore, that the subject is once again rearing its head in the referendum campaign. But the reality of European defence co-operation does not match the rhetoric – whether eurosceptic or federalist.
Conspiracy-minded Brexiters insist that, were the UK to stay in the European Union, British troops might soon be faced with conscription into a Brussels-controlled army. More sober eurosceptics warn that “the European Union has its sights on NATO”.
Allegedly designed in the same Brussels and Berlin offices where dreams of an ever closer European union are fostered, a European army is often envisioned together with common armament programmes, a common budget and institutions. It has become a symbol of EU over-reach in one of the most sensitive areas of national sovereignty – defence.
Today, it is still easy for British eurosceptics to raise the spectre of an EU army, because they are helped by proponents of the idea in Europe. In March 2015, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker advocated a common European army as a means to increase the EU’s standing on the world stage, not least in the eyes of Russia.
Recent reports on a forthcoming defence white paper from Germany will do nothing to end the scare-mongering: it may contain proposals for a joint EU headquarters or even an EU army in the context of a ‘defence union’ and an increased German commitment to defence multilateralism.
The creation of EU armed forces, with a role in defending Europe’s borders, would signal a qualitative shift in EU policy towards territorial defence – far beyond the more limited ambition of the current EU Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP).
Through the CSDP, the EU aims to be able to undertake humanitarian and rescue tasks, crisis management, and peacekeeping. CSDP does not, however, cover collective defence of EU territory. Nor does any EU government seriously envisage it doing so, given that NATO plays that role.
Moreover, member-states do not want to cede sovereignty on defence policy. As such, decisions on defence (and foreign) policy require unanimity in the Council of Ministers.
This is what David Cameron referred to in his speech on May 9th,when he said that “suggestions of an EU army are fanciful: national security is a national competence, and we would veto any suggestion of an EU army”.
Euroenthusiasts are not alone in arguing that, faced with multiple security crises at Europe’s borders, European defence efforts must become more credible, fast. Whoever wins the US presidential election in November is likely to put more pressure on America’s European allies to spend more on defence and to provide for their own security.
Donald Trump may be alone in saying that NATO is obsolete, and extreme in his view that Europe should pay for America’s role in its defence; but across both US political parties there is growing frustration that only five out of 28 NATO members meet the NATO target of spending 2 per cent of GDP on defence.
Europeans will therefore have to respond to American pressure, or else risk the “dim if not dismal future for the transatlantic alliance” that then US defence secretary Robert Gates foresaw in 2011. But the justifiable need for more defence integration should not be confused with the creation of an EU army. The latter remains a mirage for four reasons.
One: Mixing apples and oranges
History has shaped the defence cultures of different EU member-states in very different ways. Some countries may therefore find it easier to work together than others.
Proponents of an EU army often refer to existing examples of different countries integrating their militaries as a blueprint for pan-European forces. Nordic defence co-operation (NORDEFCO), for instance, has long seen Scandinavian and Finnish forces train alongside each other. Proponents have also paid particular attention to Dutch-German co-operation – the two countries today are effectively sharing soldiers, as well as tanks and other capabilities.
But Dutch-German integration was driven primarily by economics; the Netherlands scrapped its armour in the face of budgetary pressures and sought to offset the impact of these cuts by forging a partnership that allows Dutch forces to train with German tanks. Co-operation at this intimate level was possible only because the two armies already possessed long-standing ties: a joint headquarters, active since 1995; similar political processes preceding deployment; and familiarity in both armies with German-made equipment.
Without these similarities, true integration becomes much harder. The Franco-German joint brigade illustrates as much. Though created in 1989, it was only first deployed (and then only partially) as part of a training mission in Mali last year. In Afghanistan, the two countries were unable to agree on an acceptable level of risk for the troops involved, blocking deployment. The problem would only be worse in multinational EU units.
The publication is not an editorial. It reflects solely the point of view and argumentation of the author. The publication is presented in the presentation. Start in the previous issue. The original is available at: cer.eu