The call for a European Army is back on the European table. In an interview with German newspaper Die Welt over the weekend, Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, discussed on a wide array of topics from the Eurocrisis, to Grexit, to the Monetary Union, and called for the creation of a European army. The discussions around the topic of a European army have been cyclical inside European political circles for decades. With the European Council Summit on Defense of June approaching, President Juncker may want to prepare the ground before hand for a productive meeting.
Juncker’s Proposal for a European Army
The lingering crisis in Ukraine is reminding the Europeans how dependent they are on NATO and the US for the enforcement of regional security and how irrelevant/inefficient are the EU and its Member States in shaping desired outcomes in high politics. Despite the attempts by Berlin and Paris to solve the Ukrainian crisis diplomatically, Moscow has not budged and is continuing its territorial expansion in Eastern Ukraine. In some ways, Ukraine is another Kosovo for the Europeans, as in both cases the EU cannot respond independently with force and end the crisis. Such statement is certainly confirmed by Juncker’s comments when arguing that “With its own Army, Europe could react credibly to a threat
to peace in a Member State or in a neighboring country of the European Union.”
Die Welt continued its interview by asking Mr. Juncker if he thinks that Russia would have thought twice before annexing Crimea if the EU had had a European army. Juncker responded by arguing that military response should not be the initial strategy and only complement diplomacy and politics. However, Juncker went on claiming that “a joint army of Europeans would give the clear impression [to Russia] that we are serious about defending the European values.” Juncker denied the fact that a European army would compete with NATO. As per Juncker, the European army would permit to demonstrate the seriousness of the EU in foreign policy; and contribute to the deepening process of the Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP).
On Monday, March 9th, the Commission tried to narrow and justify some of the comments made by President Juncker. Chief Commission Spokesman, Margaritas Schinas, underlined that the pooling and sharing (P&S) in defense capabilities make financial sense for the EU-28 (watch his response here). Mr. Schinas called for going beyond the interview and work on the substance of the question of a European army.
Such comment is not surprising coming from Mr. Juncker, as even before becoming President of the Commission, Mr. Juncker was in favor of the creation of a European army. As a Prime-Minister of Luxembourg, a small EU Member State in terms of military power, Mr. Juncker has long been in favor of a common EU force. During his candidacy to the presidency of the Commission, Mr. Juncker reiterated the call for a European army.
The Cyclical Desire for a European Army
The question of European defense is directly intertwined with the story of European integration. As developed in his latest analysis on the Juncker’s proposal, Jan Techau of the Carnegie Endowment wrote that:
The oldest item on the European list of utopian integration topics is a federal superstate. The second oldest is the creation of an EU army. Despite the obvious hopelessness of getting such a thing started and of making it work, this latter idea has been remarkably resilient.
The fight between the Gaullist vision – independent EU army – and the Altanticist – Europe under the US nuclear umbrella – has remained ever since. But one should distinguish six important periods in explaining the tentatives of development/integration in high politics at the EU level (for an in-depth look at the question of the European Defense, refer to the following book Debating European Security and Defense Policy. Understanding the Complexity):
- 1954 – European Defense Cooperation (EDC) was initiated by the French and killed by the French. The EDC was supposed to create a standing European army.
- Cold War – Europe under the NATO umbrella. For over 30 years the baseline of European security and defense was enforced by the transatlantic alliance, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The US provided the bulk of the military protection with its military bases around Europe. NATO offered a security blanket to the European Communities, allowing its Member States to focus on economic integration.
- 1992 – The Treaty of Maastricht and the CFSP. With the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the reunification of Germany, powerful EC Member States, France and the UK, felt that deepening the integration process with a new treaty would permit to absorb a reunified Germany. The 1992 Treaty of Maastricht created the European Union and its pillar system. The new institutional design based on a three-pillar structure established the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) permitting the creation of a common EU foreign policy.
- 1998 – The Declaration of Saint Malo. Over a two-day bilateral meeting in the French town of Saint Malo, French President Chirac and British Prime Minister Blair agreed on bilateral basis to create a common European defense system permitting the EU to respond to regional crisis threatening the security of the Union and the continent. The Saint Malo Declaration was a response to European inabilities in acting and responding to the war in the Balkans and the 1998 war in Kosovo. Both regional crises highlighted the lack of hard power and unity from the Europeans and their dependence on NATO.
- 1999-2007 – From summits to deployments. From 1999 to 2007, under the leadership of the first High Representative Javier Solana, the EU institutionalized the European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP) permitting the Union to deploy national forces under the EU flag for civilian and military missions. Many ESDP missions were deployed in Africa, Europe, and Asia (see the map below).
- 2007 to today – Financial crisis and CSDP. Since the 2007 collapse of the financial markets, the global balance of power has been shifting. The US and European economies were on the brink of collapse, and in the specialized literature, the declinist argument, looking at the end of the liberal world order, has illustrated the decline of American hegemony and the rise of new powers. In parallel, a series of crises surrounding Europe initiated by the Arab Spring have caused grave concerns in European capitals and Washington. Europe has been circled by a ‘ring of fire’ from all sides, Ukraine, Syria, Libya, MENA and Central Africa. Inside this ‘ring of fire’ many threats have directly challenged Europeans such as terrorism, mass-migration, war, trafficking, and failed-states. In this environment, the EU has tried to increase its defense harmonization through the Pooling & Sharing (P&S) in order to avoid duplication at the European level as well as responding to the declining of share of national GDP committed to military expenditures. Because of lack of national commitment, the P&S and CSDP have not received the attention required. In such environment, the argument of a European Defense Union (EDU), as raised by Solana and Blockmans, should permit greater strategic, institutional, capabilities, and resources cooperation between the EU-28.
A Hopeless Call?
The call for an EU army is only part of the revival of an old federalist dream. The gap between Juncker’s proposal and the European realities is extremely wide. For instance, the United Kingdom under Prime Minister Cameron has fought all European initiatives towards the furthering of European integration. During the selection and appointment process of Mr. Juncker, the UK opposed his nomination fearing that he would continuously call for deeper integration as he had done in the past. With Juncker at the helm of the Commission for a little less than a year, he has certainly launched a series of initiatives in order to re-boost the EU. From the Juncker Plan to launch the European economies (read two previous analyses here and here), to the EU Energy Union to now the call for a EU army, Juncker’ strategy is to demonstrate that ‘more Europe’ is necessary in order to solving Europe’s problems.
Even though the United Kingdom was a pioneer with France in December 1998 when agreeing to the creation of the ESDP, the UK has since changed its position on greater defense integration. Ensuing the Juncker interview, London’s reaction was “Our position is crystal clear that defense is a national, not an EU responsibility and that there is no prospect of that position changing and no prospect of a European army.” The reactions by British politicians have been along the same line, a clear opposition to the Juncker’s proposal of a European army. That does not mean that the UK is opposed to a more integrated CSDP, but the country is in election-mode and being pro-European seems to be a no-go in this election.
If the UK finds Juncker’s call outraging, Germany welcomed it. For instance, German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen told German radio that “Our [German] future as Europeans will at some point be with a European army.” France has not been very vocal on Juncker’s comments. So far, France has been very active in his perceived sphere of influence and has been deploying his national troops in Libya, Mali, CAR and throughout the Sahel region at the expense of the CSDP.
The question of a EU army is always of actuality and will remain in the federalist arsenal. President Juncker is correct in his analysis of the state of the world in 2015 and the challenges/threats facing the Union and its 28 Member States. In this ever-changing world and increasing degree of
complexity of the challenges, the EU-28 ought to understand that increasing the Pooling & Sharing falls under an improvement of their national security and interest. The regional instabilities equally threaten all EU Member States from Sofia to London, Rome to Copenhagen, Warsaw to Paris. An EU army may not be the appropriate option, but a common strategic thinking and common foreign policy and military vision ought to be addressed and adopted.
(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).