Juncker’s appeal to take into consideration the creation of an EU army, as a response to the rising threat of Russia in the East, has raised several questions and has revived the debate on the European Army. Many call Juncker’s idea an illusion, a fantasy, as well as a wonderful project for the future but not the present.
For many of us Europeans, the idea of a common European army is welcomed as we believe it would bring more cohesion and unity and get us closer to our European dream. At the moment however, it does not seem to be the right time for Europe to engage in such a project. The EU lacks the political support and the economic strength. How can the call of an EU army come at a time when the UK, a real European military force, has not yet decided if it will remain an EU member state?
According to Juncker, the new EU army would play a considerable role in countering new threats at the borders and defending European values.
Member states disagree on a regular basis on issues much simpler than security threats. Further, member states have their own foreign interests to pursue and their views do not converge easily and if they do, they converge on a more regional scale (e.g. the Baltic region, Central Europe, or Eastern Europe). Also, giving up sovereignty in the present political and economic context of the European Union, is surely not on the agenda of any member state. Member states have always fought for their sovereignty, as giving it up would mean closer steps towards the political union.
Some voices, such as that of the UKIP MEP Mike Hookem, are of the opinion that an EU army would be a tragedy after all that has happened in the Eurozone. He believes that the EU cannot be trusted with the defence of its member states. Even Poland and Latvia are sceptical and call the idea as being risky, while raising questions on financing, the relationship with NATO and political decision-making.
“We have all seen the utter mess the EU has made of the Eurozone economy, so how can we even think of trusting them with this island’s defence?" Mike Hookem (UKIP MEP and defence spokesman)
An EU army would “help shape a common foreign and security policy and to seize together Europe’s responsibility in the world”
The idea of creating a European army and taking responsibility is not new. Some of the most important initiatives of creating an EU army are those from the 50s and 60s. In August 1950, Churchill proposed the creation of a United European Army under democratic control and in partnership with the USA and Canada. Furthermore in October 1950, the French prime-minister René Pléven proposed the creation of a European Defence Community which would comprise of a European army, with staff being pulled from the member states of the European Coal and Steel Community and would have been led by a European minister of defence. Between 1961 and 1962, the ‘Fouchet Plan’ (named after Charles Fouchet who envisaged it), viewed the creation of a European army as enhanced interstate cooperation and better coordinated defence policies, but Germany was the only state to accept the plan, the others blocking the initiative from reluctance of giving up sovereignty and not wanting to risk the relationship with the USA and NATO.
Moreover, a Common Foreign and Security Policy already exists for the European Union. It was created through the Maastricht Treaty effective from November 1993, with the objective of boosting the role of the EU on the international stage which would ultimately lead to a common defence policy and mechanism. The CFSP is a supranational and intergovernmental construction. Its supranationalism comes from the mechanisms used for the dissemination of European values and principles such as granting human aid, offering assistance for democratic consolidation and providing legal and administrative consultation. The role the European Parliament plays within this framework consists of pertains to consultation and the budget. However, the intergovernmental aspect of the CFSP is more pronounced because the main institutions that are more involved are the European Council alongside the Council of the European Union. Thus, the heads of state are key players in the decision-making.
The president of the European Commission claimed a collective force across the 28 EU states would act as a deterrent to Russian aggression in Eastern Europe
It would mean a greater increase in power as 28 countries would pool together all of their forces and resources. From a technical point of view however, this could prove to be quite challenging. Claudia Major, security expert at the Berlin-based German Institute for International and Security Affairs, raises multiple important questions that will need clear cut answers:
“(…) who decides on sending soldiers where? Who decides on whom they might kill, or who might kill them? Who gives the orders? What parliament decides? What defence industrial base do we have? It's very nice to talk about a European army but eventually you need to discuss the technical details. German laws for soldiers are very different from the French, British, Slovak, Italian and Spanish laws, for instance. So which law applies?”.
In the end, the main question that remains is whether the creation of an EU army would be beneficial at this moment or would it would weaken the EU even more? Is it a desperate act of a weakened European Union?