A Single European Army instead of 28 national militaries?

, by Norbert Kucharik

A Single European Army instead of 28 national militaries?
Personnel of the European Corps in Strasbourg, France, during a change of command ceremony in 2013. - Ⓒ Wikimedia Commons Claude Truong-Ngoc (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Internal market, common currency, common borders and perhaps even a common European Constitution. Europe has never been as united as it is today. Nevertheless, according to several enthusiasts this is still not enough and dreams of a united continent should continue further and include the creation of the EU army.

The idea of the single European military forces is not new and has regularly appeared practically since the beginning of the European project. Initial efforts on joint action(s) in foreign and security policy materialised in the proposal to create a European Defence Community in 1952 which intended to launch an ambitious plan for the establishment of a supranational Pan-European army proposed by French politician Réné Pleven. Paradoxically, this initiative was consequently vetoed by France.

Although the Lisbon Treaty does not refer directly to the “European army”, it defines the common security and defence policy (CSDP) and states that CSDP will lead to a common defence provided that the European Council decides so by a unanimous vote (art. 42 TEU). One component of the CSDP is also the European Defence Agency which was established earlier. Might this agency be deemed as a precursor of the future EU army general staff?

I consider it necessary to also recall a recent statement by Jean-Claude Juncker in the German weekend newspaper Welt am Sonntag (March 2015) where he called for a European army. This initiative was largely supported by Germany, though German defence minister Ursula von der Leyen stressed that is not a question of the near future. On the contrary, Juncker´s initiative was strongly opposed by Eurosceptics, notably in the United Kingdom.

The British would probably consider the creation of the EU army as a step towards greater federalisation and weakening of the role of nation states in Europe. Besides their traditional Euroscepticism the British may have one more reason for distrust: Gibraltar. Entitlement to the peninsula is the subject of a long-term dispute between Britain and Spain. This bilateral dispute even resulted in a trade blockade last year. Another sensitive issue would also be raised with respect to the obligations of certain EU Member States which carry out common defence under the North Atlantic Treaty. Those critics point out duplicate structures of both organisations and unreasonable financial costs for arming and defence.

Despite all this criticism, we should seriously reflect on this matter. Is the establishment of the EU military units not a step in the right direction to ensure durable peace and stability in Europe? Why do global stakeholders still not recognise the EU as a strong partner in international relations? How does the EU want to react to continuous breaches of its fundamental values beyond its formal borders, in particular in Syria and Ukraine?

Therefore, the Union needs its army to consolidate its position in the world, to face the increasing military expansion of Russia and to be ready for immediate actions beyond its borders or even within its own territory having also regard to the ongoing terrorist threat. In my view, NATO as a guarantor of European security is not enough, since not all of the EU Member States are part of the alliance.

Moreover, a joint European army would send a clear signal to the world that Europe is willing and prepared to take responsibility for its own security and defence. Is this not exactly that we all should wish for?


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