Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission announced the creation of a European Army in order to defend the values of the European Union. Many commentators consider this idea as utopic, fanciful or absurd, according to the French Courrier International after the German Frankfurter Allgemaine Zeitung. This is hardly surprising, especially when we have not overcome the other difficulties raised by another European problem- the common currency- euro.
Are we ready for the European Army?
It is worthy of mentioning that the history of the common European forces has a very long tradition. In the past we had many examples of multinational military cooperation between European countries but each of these projects ended, after reaching (or not) its goal (ex. Crusade, Battle of Lepanto 1571 or Holy League 1684).
After the Second World War, however, the idea started to grow in the mind of many European politicians. The tragic experience of the last War and the awareness of new conflicts between the capitalistic West and the communistic East made many politicians realise that only a common European army could defend our continent. In 1952, the Treaty on the European Defence Community was signed by the West Germany, France, Italy, and the Benelux countries for the purpose of unifying European forces. However, the plan never came into effect because France parliament unfortunately refused ratification of the treaty and the project became dead letter.
This stalemate was unfortunate as, in my opinion, it would have been the best time to do it. First of all, the countries were in the stage of rebuilding their military forces. In 1952, it was easier to integrate the forces than nowadays and the project was really ambitious- the creation of 40 European divisions.
Today, sixty years after, we have 28 different armies in Europe. Each country during the last 60 years developed its own army- so we have different organisations, types of equipment, structures and military industries. If the US uses one type of tank, in Europe we have 11, and the same applies to military planes, submarines etc. Of course, some instances of multinational cooperation exist, such as Eurofighter or German-French brigade, but they are exceptions rather than the rule.
In addition, some of the EU countries belong to NATO, others do not. How should the new EU army cooperate with NATO? Would the EU army become a new NATO member, as in the case of the G20 where the EU is represented as an organisation separate from the other EU countries?
In fact the potential of the EU army is similar to the US army. Nowadays, in forces of all EU Members states serve 1.5 millions solders in compare to 1.54 in the US; we spent twice so much as Russia for our defence. However, these armies are not at all compatible each other and finally we have 28 mini-armies. Jean-Claude Juncker pursues to implement this idea because it would make spending more efficient. The armies of XXI centuries cost a lot of money, what we could realised during the last Conflict in Libya, when the French and British forced exhausted theirs military supply two weeks after starting the operation against Kaddafi. In result, we asked Americans for help, once again…
Nevertheless, there is a considerable amount of questions about how to implement the project. Ideological problems still lie ahead. For example, what purposes should the Army serve? In 2010 German president Horst Köhler had to resign due to critics after his statement that German soldier in Afghanistan needed to “protect our [Germans’] interests such as ensuring free trade routes or preventing regional instabilities which are also certain to negatively impact our ability to safeguard trade, jobs and income”.
Therefore what would happen if London would like to intervene in the Middle East or Paris in Africa? Who will be taking decisions? Should the solders communicate in 24 official languages, and if not, why in English could many countries ask? Another difficult aspect is that this idea triggered a positive reaction only in Germany so far. German Minister of Defence, Ursula von der Leyen would like that her country plays a leading role in this new project and even she considers a deployment of German forces on the Easter frontier of the EU. Nevertheless, it would be hard to imagine for many people in Poland, Rumania or Greece the stationing of German soldiers even 70 years after the war.
It needs to be said that without a common foreign policy it will be extremely difficult to create a European Army, much more than in 1950s. Who should pay for this project? If the EU, we need a transfer of the competence (and money) to this European level.
On the other hand, we should remember that Europe for a long period of the Cold War depended military on the US. This time is over. The new generaration of the American politicians do not follow the rules of the Cold War. Many US units are recently relocated from Europe to the other regions of the world, especially to the Middle East and Pacific area. As a result, the US forces in the Europe are not sufficient to protect the continent from potential threats. The EU army could take this responsibility.
For all this reasons, I truly believe that the idea is really worth considering, although many questions remain unanswered as to how this idea will become reality. To overcome the ideological, economic and structural obstacles is critical at this time. So far, quoting Margaret Thatcher “European defence is an idea in search of itself. It currently amounts to a paper army with paper resources, and its battlefield is a desktop in Brussels”.