Comment: calls for a united EU army will only create division

Juncker's latest proposal looks like a stunt to irritate the US


In a proposal which has struck many as being out of tune, the President of the EU Commission has unearthed a concept from the 1950s: to create a European army, in order to protect the continent from real and perhaps imaginary foes.

In March, speaking to Welt am Sonntag, Jean-Claude Juncker said that setting up an EU army would keep back the Russians and ‘show them that we are serious about defending EU values’.

Juncker, who’s long been toying with the idea of an EU army, claimed that getting member states to cooperate militarily would make spending more efficient and foster further European integration. He added that a new force wouldn’t challenge the role of NATO.

The Luxembourgian is aware that his image is clouded: does he hope that by acting as a European champion he might regain some popularity? This risky move might mean the loss of even more ground to the growing tribe of Eurosceptics.

Looking closely, it wouldn’t be outrageous to imagine that Juncker was also egged on by Germany. Prime minister Angela Merkel and foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier are known to relish the idea of a common European military. Yet the obvious impracticability of a European army – where do you deploy it? – makes it an unlikely solution to Europe’s problems.

So, could this be a stunt to irritate the US and UK, who vigorously opposed Juncker as a candidate last year? A retaliating game of sorts for the many years of spying on Berlin?

One articulate negative comment came from Warsaw. An article in Eurasia Review stated that ‘having had negative experiences with [Russia] in the past, [Poland] is wary of any action that may bring any divisions to European solidarity against Russian aggression.’

The fact remains that Europe’s defence needs are essentially met by NATO already. This has virtually wiped out the need for, and any plans for, an independent continental army. France was the first to kill plans for the European Defence Community.

After the 1954 amendments to the Treaty of Brussels, the EDC was replaced by the political Western European Union; the EU was born from this. Several years later, the UK and France tried to forge a closer military partnership (St. Malo, 1998); it didn’t work out as hoped. Divergent national interests notoriously pull countries apart.

Eurasia Review also interviewed Claudia Major and Christian Mölling from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP). Unlike their country’s government,

“They see the whole discussion as an ideological battle that does not advance Europe’s defence. Instead, they call for pragmatic steps on the way to a defensible Europe.”

In other words, integrating with NATO.

Major and Mölling say that:

“The call for a European army remains a symbolic commitment to a more [prominent] Europe that only distracts from the real problems of European defence in the here-and-now.”

As a Daily Telegraph reader succinctly put in a letter to the paper not long ago:

“Alliance forces [are] less than fully integrated and may be over reliant on the US, but for Juncker to recommend an unformed, untried EU alternative speaks volumes for his grasp of realities and about that organisation which so recklessly raised Ukraine’s hopes of membership.”

Even unrepentant Europhiles may agree.

As per the Russians, the right attitude perhaps is to show the EU and NATO as a united front. When it comes to EU defence, just outsource: the expertise is already there. If the snag is that NATO sounds too American to some,a controversial EU army is still not the right answer.

Alessio Colonnelli also contributes to openDemocracy, Shifting Grounds and Euro Crisis/LSE. He holds a combined B.A./M.A. in languages and literary translation from Padua University

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