What future for the idea of a European Army?

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With recent developments in the European landscape, the European Union stands at the crossroads of history once more, facing the same issues it has been facing since its inception. Since the foundation of the European Coal and Steel Community, there has been a movement towards a federation of states and closer integration, which gave rise to the sentiment that the sovereignty of the nation state should be preserved. One could say that this is perfectly exemplified in the debate over the European Union’s military future.

The current controversy centres on the proposal for a Common European Army, a notion which has been discussed intermittently throughout the decades, but which was brought to the forefront by a statement given by President Jean-Claude Juncker

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in early 2015. Following the military action taken by Russia with regards to Ukraine, the President of the Commission expressed his belief that the European Union’s response to such an act and its international standing would be aided by the existence of a European Army.

Though this has attracted backlash from many national politicians, in some member states, one could say that military cooperation is at the heart of the history of the European Union. In the Schuman Declaration that led to the formation of the ECSC it was made clear that “The solidarity in production thus established will make it plain that any war between France and Germany becomes not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible.”

Since then, though the development of the European Project has mostly taken an economic direction, the idea of the EU having a military function is not a thing of the past. This has been clearly demonstrated through the enactment of the Common Foreign Security Policy established by the Maastricht Treaty, as well as the development thereafter of the Common Security and Defence Policy. However, these fora of defence cooperation failed to reach the ambitious prospect of a single European Army, as espoused by Winston Churchill in the Council of Europe in 1950. Though the scope of this proposition was to control German military power and included an American contingent, it was one of the inspirations for the setting up of the European Defence Community.

The European Defence Community was championed by Jean Monnet, considered by many to be the father of the European Project, but was doomed to failure with British support for the EDC being tepid at best. More importantly, the United States was impatient to re-arm Germany due to Cold War hostilities. This placed West Germany in a stronger position for negotiations than expected by the French, leading to the plan being rejected by the French Assembly in 1954.

Currently, EU security cooperation centres on the European External Action Service headed by the High Representative for Foreign Affairs & Security Policy, Federica Mogherini.

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The EEAS provides diplomatic services on the EU’s behalf, including peace-keeping missions in other, non-EU countries. Other recent developments towards a common defence strategy include the proposal of the European Defence Action Plan which envisages a European Defence Fund. As President Juncker put it, this fund would be used to “invest in the common development of technologies and equipment of strategic importance – from land, air, sea and space capabilities to cyber security.”

Though this plan has raised eyebrows amongst some euro-sceptics, other factions thought this didn’t go far enough. Just last month the liberal European Parliamentary group ALDE, called for the establishment of what is, in essence, a European Army. This military force would be composed of soldiers from member states and would be answerable only to the legitimate European authorities and not to their national government.

Thus, the European Union lies on the cusp of another cataclysmic decision following its recent, turbulent past. Should it choose this time of change to once more foray into unknown waters, forming stronger ties of military cooperation and reducing national powers, or should it fall back to safer ground and rediscover an EU centred solely on economic prosperity?

Written by

Daniel Cassar

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What future for the idea of a European Army?

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