With the aftermath of Brexit still reverberating around the EU, Kevin O’Leary examines the potential of an EU-wide army.
A MEETING two weeks ago of the European Union’s defence ministers in Slovakia led to the re-emergence of what has continued to be one of the most divisive issues for the organisation since its formation. EU leaders have long clashed over whether or not the union should have its own military to independently respond to international crises as well as conduct operations alongside NATO and UN forces. This thorny subject reared its head once more at the Bratislava discussion table.
So what exactly was proposed? The Italian Defence Ministry suggested that a “European Multinational Force (EMF) would allow available member states to share forces, command and control” while acting in interests of the EU. The EMF would be a precursor to an EU army and would have a permanent base at EU headquarters.
“The idea of an EU army has however received renewed impetus with the Brexit vote, as the UK stood as the primary opponent to such plans.”
Reaction to such a major expansion in EU operations has been rather muted. Any moves towards a coordinated military force between member states are strongly rejected by the United Kingdom, with British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon warning it could “undermine” the role of NATO.
Smaller states such as Ireland are also cold to the concept, with fears of an EU army being one of the reasons cited for Irish voter’s rejection of the Lisbon Treaty in 2008, as this may have compromised the government’s position of neutrality on matters of foreign policy. That treaty provides for something called “Permanent Structured Co-operation” (PSC) in defence, which amounts to what would effectively have a permanent EU headquarters.
Decisions on PSC are made on a qualified majority vote basis, meaning there would be no national veto. However, the construction of an EU army without unanimous support could cause serious damage to the EU’s relationship with the smaller and less military-orientated member states.
The idea of an EU army has however received renewed impetus with the Brexit vote, as the UK stood as the primary opponent to such plans. Closer defence ties are favoured by both France and Germany, in the wake of several terrorist attacks and continued conflict on the EU’s periphery. It is their belief that such an organisation would lend itself to strengthening internal security in these countries, with the Paris and Brussels attacks both involving the cross-border movement of terrorists.
A multi-state army is also supported by the EU’s eastern members such as Poland, Czech Republic and the Baltic nations, whose fear of Russian interference along their borders has been heightened by the continuing war in Ukraine. The crisis in Luhansk and Donetsk represents the first full-scale military conflict on the EU’s borders since the Balkan wars in the 1990s and has signified the resurgence of a bellicose foreign policy emanating from the Kremlin.
“A major stumbling block, as one might expect, is centred on how exactly to pay for such a force.”
Poland’s powerful right-wing leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski has called for the EU to implement a confederation of nation states under a president in charge of a powerful common military. While France and Germany aren’t calling for a measure this extensive, it does serve to showcase the numerous factors in support for a stronger unified military structure.
A major stumbling block, as one might expect, is centred on how exactly to pay for such a force. The main supporters of these plans, bar Germany, are not among Europe’s strongest performing economies at the moment. The Baltic states would have very little capital to invest in this initiative, while France and Italy are currently suffering through fiscal difficulties that necessitate expenditure reductions, not increases of the magnitude required for this project to get off the ground.
With the existence of NATO, which already serves to act as a bulwark against Russian aggression and contains the membership of all of the EU’s eastern member states, is there much need for an EU army? The countries in favour of an EU army are already protected by NATO’s Article 5 so it is unclear what tangible benefits there would be for the bloc as a whole.
Most of Europe would agree that increased co-operation on defence would be a positive development, but an EU army might just be a step too far.