Written by Bruno Castro, EST Ambassador to Portugal
In the last few weeks, the creation of a European Army was back on the international agenda. After Macron, it was Merkel´s turn to publicly endorse the French President´s idea. However, either in the member states, either in the civil society, this measure doesn´t seem to gather consensus in its effectiveness in solving the problems related to European security and defense.
In fact, there is a need for a greater commitment and strengthening of the European security and defense since no member state has the capability of developing its military capabilities in order to ensure its security anymore. Anyhow, some critics, like the Portuguese Republic President, argue that “the strengthening of EU defense is complementary to NATO and not independent”. In the same line of thought, Sophia Besch uses the expression “reinventing the wheel” suggesting the creation of an EU Army would compete directly with NATO. Similarly, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warns about the risks of duplicating NATO, stating that “money invested in an EU army would be money lost for the alliance.” This Atlantic position in no surprise at all since they always rejected the idea of European territorial defense, afraid of a possible loss of interest by the US in EU.
These are not the only criticism. Actually, the list of creating an EU Army is quite long and involves several constraints. This idea is also the subject of many debates by the MEP´s, from left to right.
One logistical aspect that raises some concern is the language of that army. The answer seems pretty easy: English. Indeed, English is one of the most spoken languages in the world and is one of the official languages in the EU so, therefore pretty much all member states have some ease in speaking English. However, that doesn´t mean all military personnel are proficient, and for sure it´s what happens in some cases. The optimization of military capabilities of various Member States on the use of a common language would require a long period of time adaption and standardization, which besides meaning training costs, does not reflect the urgent need that Merkel and Macron claim.
The European Union, with all the problems it has, continues to not be able to act with one singular voice. We saw that in diplomatic conflicts where the EU needed to define its position and we saw that in the refugee’s crisis. Starting to answer with one voice with a European army doesn’t seem the right solution. Besides that, not all member states agree with an EU Army.
Another problematic issue that many critics have raised is the fact that many Member States want to maintain their sovereignty and not to give it up. We can easily remember the words of David Cameron: “national security is a national competence, and we would veto any suggestion of an EU Army.
The MEP´s, from left to right have shown concern over this matter. Sabine Losing, from Radical Left (GUE/NGL), does not have much direct criticism to a European army because actually, “… I would like to say that, even if one supported this idea, which I do not, it is not constitutionally possible at all in my view. For a European army, we would also need a European federal state, with corresponding parliamentary powers which the European Parliament does not have at all.” It´s a very interesting idea because Sabine brings a new element to the discussion: the federalization of EU.
Tanja Fajon, from Social Democrats (S&D) believes that “we need some forces that are already existing in Europe. We specially need to coordinate them better”, instead of duplicating NATO, since 22 EU countries belong to NATO.
On behalf of the Greens (Group of the Greens), Bodil Valero states that “We don’t believe it’s a good idea to have a common army. We think that we have, for example, the battlegroups that we can send out in peacekeeping missions; they have never been used so far, even though they cost a lot. That could be a first step towards working more together. It’s good to coordinate the different armies we have in Europe, but we should not have a common European army.”
In the Centre-right spectrum, Alojz Peterle (EPP) believes that the main issue is political unity. “It wouldn’t be a problem, in technical terms, to establish military units or a so-called ‘European army’. The political question is how and when, or for what purpose this army will be used. We are again speaking about the problems of political unity. We have to agree who is our enemy and where we should engage our army. And I remember how it was when Slovenia was attacked 25 years ago. At that time, there was no European Common Foreign and Security Policy. And I would say we still have problems with that because different Member States have different opinions of the main challenges.”
In conclusion, there will not be a European army at sight, however, it is true that Europe needs and must do more to strengthen its defence, security and well-being of all citizens. It is also true that an EU Army is not a good idea. Instead of that, we should focus on coordinating, training, investing and developing the armies of the Member States without ever desiring to become a common army. We also need to fully understand what are the true intentions behind France and Germany.
Bruno Castro holds a Bachelor’s degree in International Relations from University of Évora, Portugal. He is passionate about working in organizations and associations and also worked in several volunteer activities with children and in a museum. He attended different courses such as “International Relations, Cyberwar and Cybersecurity” (University of Évora,2017) and “Armed Conflicts- Legal Perspectives and International Relations” (University of Minho,2018). He also recently finished his course in Defense at the National Defense Institute (IDN).