A Hopeful Future for a European Army

A Hopeful Future for a European Army

Since the inception of the European Community, a united European army has been in the back of the mind of many Europhiles. However, the United Kingdom, a member of the union, has always opposed such a move. Now, however, with the result in the popular referendum for the exit of Britain from the EU (regularly called “Brexit”), the dream of a united European military force is closer than ever.


The History of a Joint European Armed Forces and Defense Cooperation (aka the EU Army)

The idea of having a European Union army or armed forces has been around for years. Since the early days of the European Community, the notion of integration not only in the form of economy, politics and finance, but also defense and security have been on the table in the European circles (Engelhart 2013, 1-3). The very first attempt at creating such a thing was the European Defense Community (EDC), a tentative agreement to establish a European Defense Force in the 1950s. Although at the time the plan was aimed at stopping Western Germany from joining NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) and it was unsuccessful, it was the beginning of a trend in Europe (Lelieveldt and Princen 2011, 9-11).

However, as the European Economic Community became more integrated over time, common foreign policy and defense were brought into the realm of the European community in the form of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), which became one of the three pillars of the EU after the Maastricht Treaty. This lead to the EU mostly speaking as a single voice in foreign affairs with the establishment of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (lead today by Federica Mogherini). Yet, the union has not advanced at the same pace in the areas of defense and security. The Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP), a part of the CFSP, still has limited scope in military integration and effective common defense capabilities (Kaldor 2012, 81-82). Still, the sole goal of the European Defense Agency (EDA), an institution under the Council of the European Union, is the improvement of European defense capabilities (Lelieveldt and Princen 2011, 204).


Current Bilateral Agreements and Joint Military Cooperation in Europe

Although the total military integration of the EU is still a far-fetched goal, the Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) has already contributed to effective cooperation between EU members states in the area of defense and foreign operations. These are some examples.

  • European Union Force (EUFOR): They are joint military terrestrial missions undertaken by the European Union overseas. Examples of missions were in Macedonia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad, Central Africa Republic, Mali, etc…. It is formed only for specific operations (Major and Mölling 2010, 21-25).
  • European Union Naval Force (EUNAVFOR): They are joint military naval missions undertaken by the European Union overseas (Mediterranean and Somalia/Horn of Africa). It is also formed only for specific operations (Riddervold 2015, 354).
  • Eurocorps: It is a permanent intergovernmental military force of about 1,000 military personnel from five different EU countries stationed in Strasbourg, France.
  • EU Battlegroup (EU BG): They are European military units formed by contributions from different countries in Europe (EU, NATO and non-NATO). They are comprised of about 1,500 troops in each of the 18 battle groups, which are in a standby roster ready to be employed in the case of necessity (mostly for humanitarian missions or peacekeeping) under the orders of the Council of the European Union (Barcikowska 2013,2-3).

Moreover, bilateral agreements between member states have also enhanced cooperation between European armed forces. One of the most notable ones is the German-Dutch military cooperation where 800 sailors will be integrated in the Dutch navy and the 1st German/Dutch Corps (“Germany Strengthens Military Cooperation With The Netherlands” 2016). Another example is the Franco-British Lancaster House Treaties in the area of defense cooperation as well as the development of the Eurofighter Typhoon by four EU countries (“UK-French Defence Cooperation Reaffirmed On Fifth Anniversary Of Lancaster House Agreement – News Stories – GOV.UK” 2015). A final example of multilateral military cooperation in the heart of Europe is the UK Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF), comprised of seven European countries and lead by the United Kingdom is. Although these last three examples did involve the United Kingdom, the country has always obstructed any attempt by the EU to further integrate the armed forces of its member states.


United Kingdom Opposition: The EU Army’s Strongest Critic

The United Kingdom has always been against any sort of European army or common defense agreement. Its leaders fear a transfer of sovereignty from European nation states to “unelected bureaucrats in Brussels” (Briançon et al. 2016). Additionally, the British Government believes that the creation of an EU army would create unnecessary duplication with NATO and thus waste economic resources in a time of budget constraints.

In 2015, Jean-Claude Juncker (European Commission President) said the EU needed its own army in order to be taken seriously internationally (Sparrow 2016). He was referring to Russia and its aggression in Ukraine. However, his proposal was instantly rejected by the British government, which said that there was “no prospect” of the UK approving the creation of an EU army (Emmott and Siebold 2016). Although the UK sees military cooperation (as the examples above) as something positive, it perceives itself strong enough handles things alone since it has the biggest military budget of all EU countries, is one of the only two countries in the EU with nuclear weapons, and is part of NATO.


Integration post-Brexit: Optimism for the EU Army

However, everything changed after “Brexit.” The British referendum to leave the EU has opened the doors for the EU once more pursue its dream of uniting the militaries of the union in order to have a common defense and security strategy (Marcus 2016). In the first EU State of the Union (SOTEU) after the “Brexit,” Jean-Claude Juncker reiterated the necessity of the EU to have a military headquarter to centralize decision-making in the area of European defense and to start working towards a military force (“Juncker Proposes EU Military Headquarters – BBC News” 2016).

Moreover, Germany and France, who were the main actors in the European Coal and Steel Community that was used as a form of keeping each other’s militaries in check, are again leading the voice for a more integrated European defense system (Lelieveldt and Princen 2011, 5-9). During the last EU Summit in Bratislava, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and his German counterpart, Ursula von der Leyen, stressed the need for bringing together EU military assets, for creating more efficient coordination, and for developing joint weapons (Emmott and Siebold 2016).

Spain and Italy were the latest countries to join the cause and give support for the Franco-German European military view with the Italian foreign minister stressing the need for a “Schengen for defense” (Gentiloni 2016). All this movement from Western European countries comes at the same time that the Czech and Hungarian governments are calling for a EU army (“Czechs And Hungarians Call For EU Army Amid Security Worries – BBC News” 2016). Still, the United Kingdom has not formally started the process of leaving the EU, so any attempt of military integration would be vetoed by the British. However, this did not stop many supporters of the EU army for voicing their beliefs in the benefit of this military integration.


The case for European Military Integration

Proponents of European defense integration argue that integration is needed to counter growing security threats such as international terrorism and a more assertive (Duna and Dancuta 2015, 62). Furthermore, it would save billions of Euros by reducing duplication in military assets between countries (such as weapons systems and bases) (Gordon 2012, 121-142). Moreover, countries in the EU could join military Research and Development (R&D) programs in order to improve efficiency and reduce costs. Projects such as the Airbus A400M military cargo plane and the NH90 military helicopter are examples of joint European projects in the field of defense equipment to reduce overall development costs (Gordon 2012, 121-142). Finally, even foreign weapons could be bought by a pool of European countries with the objective of achieving economies of scale in weapons procurement as well as in logistics.

To the critics such as UK’s Defense Secretary Michael Fallow, who points out that such integration would undermine NATO, it is important to note that the alliance is a coalition of different armed forces from different countries (Emmott and Siebold 2016); the EU army, on the other hand, would be a one single unit working together, drastically reducing costs and improving efficiency. Likewise, it is important to highlight that according to the concept of Human Security and its relations to the outset of wars, conflicts today are won not only militarily, but politically, economically and socially as well (Kaldor 2012, 83). Therefore, missions in the future will be increasingly Political-Military, something that NATO is not prepared for nor developed to do. However, the EU and its massive political and social infrastructure make it more suitable to focus on both elements, security and development, at the same time.

Finally, the EU defense policy could remain under the control of European governments through the European Council rather than the European Commission, thus diminishing any fear that a supranational entity would take over the defense of national states in Europe. However, the United Kingdom is not the only hurdle in the path of a common military force with the aim of the “ever closer union.”


Additional Obstacles to Further Integration

It’s important to highlight that five EU countries defined themselves as “neutral countries” (Sweden, Austria, Finland, Malta and Ireland) and are not part of NATO (Rayroux 2013, 396-397). Would their troops fight in a war lead by the EU? How would such countries position themselves if they did not agree with EU foreign policy and possible military intervention? These are the types of questions that might hold back of a full European army.
           As two thirds of EU countries are part of NATO, as critics pointed out above, this could lead to duplication in the chain of command, bases and assets, ultimately slowing down some of the process and decision making which ideally should be fast and concise in the case of a military conflict. Furthermore, NATO has just created the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) to tackle Russian assertiveness in the region (Pavolka 2010, 1-4). In the case of a real aggression, which unit would go first, the VJTF or EU’s Battle Groups?

Finally, it is important to highlight the American position in this subject which, as the main military contributor for NATO, has not being completely clear on how it views an EU army. Instead, the Americans have only by stressed the importance of military spending and contribution by member states to keep Europe safe. As such, knowing the American position on this topic would go a long way in predicting the next steps for the EU army.

However, one clue to what the future might brings is the latest statement by Boris Johnson, one of the leader leaders in favor of the “Brexit” and current British Foreign Secretary. He stressed that after “Brexit,” the UK should not be in the way of an ever closer EU integration in the area of defense and that the Brits should be supportive of the EU in creating its own defense capabilities, such as the EU army (“Boris Johnson Says UK Should Support ‘EU Army'” 2016). Ultimately, despite the many obstacles to be faced, the future of the EU Joint Army is now far more likely post-Brexit than it has ever been before.



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