28 November 2018

Is EU heading towards “European Army”?

Gheorghe Tibil

Image source: Mediafax

In the midst of complex international context generated by recent clashing statements between president Trump and the political leaders from Paris and Berlin regarding a future European army, the EU is making significant progress towards what is called “European defence”. The Foreign Affairs Council (Defence and Foreign Ministers) from 19 and 20th of November adopted important decisions with direct relevance for EU’s strategic autonomy, in almost all dimensions of the EU’s current defence package. In no more than one month, all of these sensitive dossiers should be managed by Romania, for the first half of 2019, in its role of EU’s Council Presidency.


Hard to imagine a more complicated context than the current one for the present generation of international relations analysts, with contradictory statements and evolutions of American and European leaders almost impossible to anticipate only 3 or 4 years ago.

The disputes between Washington and the main European capitals (Paris and Berlin), at the centenary commemoration of the World War I armistice, on the future European army were confirmed by recent official speeches of chancellor Merkel in her address to the European Parliament the European Parliament and President’s Macron speech in the German Federal Parliament. Both were clearly endorsed the creation of a “European army”, motivated by Europeans’ strong need to “take their destiny into their own hands”, considering that “the times where Europe could count on others to ensure its own security are over”.

The same pathway seems to be followed by the EU’s institutions from the defence and security fields. Hence, foreign and defence ministers’ reunions, held under the aegis of Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) in 19-20 of November adopted important decisions on the whole spectrum of the current EU Defence and Security Package - Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), Military Planning and Conduct Capability (MPCC), European Defence Fund (EDF), Military Mobility, Coordinated Annual Review on Defence (CARD) and European Peace Facility (EPF).

Considering that the “European army” is not a clearly assumed objective within the Union’s official documents, all these evolutions are placed under the general and generous “umbrella” of the necessity to increase Union’s strategic autonomy. This has been also a central theme of Jean-Claude Juncker’s State of the Union speech from September this year. The real objective is to consolidate the UE’s capacity to act independently in order to protect its own interests, given the current negative evolutions of the regional and international security environment.

FAC Defence- decisions and effects

 In the PESCO’s field, evolutions are going in the right direction, considering that the ministers agreed to supplement the initial collaborative projects list with another 17 initiatives, hence through a single decision they decided to double initiative’s portfolio, having now a total of 34 projects in place. At the same time, we can say that one year after launching PESCO, we are still in the initial implementation phase, without sufficient evaluation elements on its capacity to contribute, through its projects, to the development of the common European defence capabilities and, even more importantly, to fulfilling the EU’s level of ambition.

There is a potential proliferation risk, without a serious strategic relevance for the military potential of EU’s member states. Except for two or three new projects, like the European attack helicopter or the future Euro-drones, we are seeing that the focus is on small-sized projects, without approaching the strategic enablers that Union’s strategic autonomy and its capacity to military act in crisis situations are directly depending on.

The immediate test in PESCO’s domain is EU agreement on the general conditions by which the third states can participate in the projects developed across the initiative. It is a sensitive subject, considering PESCO’s profile and the governance rules adopted at the EU level on one hand and the real need to open un projects to countries like Norway and UK (after the Brexit) which could bring real added value to the whole initiative on the other hand.

Romania continues to be modestly committed to PESCO’s projects, being supplementary committed to other two projects, in addition to the other five from the first tranche, dedicated to helicopters crew’s training, under Greece’s coordination, and the geo-meteorological and oceanographic support for missions, a project whose coordinator state is Germany. Until now, our country has not assumed the lead-nation position for any of PESCO’s projects.

Regarding the Military Planning and Conduct Capability (MPCC), or so-called EU’s Autonomous Military HQs, established in June 2017, the recent decisions are leading to strengthen its role and capacities, impossible to achieve in the past, due to UK’s constant opposition. Hence, although FAC’s Conclusions are reiterating the need to avoid the “unnecessary” duplication with NATO, in fact, the ministers approved the integration of the current executive tasks of the EU Operations Centre into the MPCC and stressed that the MPCC should be provided with all the needed human resources and infrastructure in order to reach Full Operational Capability (FOC).

The objective is to be ready by the end of 2020 to take responsibility for the operational planning and conduct of the non-executive CSDP missions of the Union (training, planning and support) and, for the first time, of “one executive military CSDP operation limited to EU Battlegroup size”. It is a starting point on which the Unions could lately build up by increasing the MPCC’s planning and conducting capacity of the CSDP military operations.

In the framework of Military Mobility, the Council reiterated the necessity for each  member state to adopt and apply an inter-institutional governmental approach (whole-of-government approach), which should not be limited to defence ministry’s specific responsibilities, but involve all the competent national authorities, in coherence with EU’s specific initiatives and in close cooperation with NATO.

Furthermore, the European Commission in cooperation with the member states, European Union Military Staff (EUMS) and the European Defence Agency (EDA) is asked to evaluate the compatibility between the military mobility demands and the European programs and initiatives dedicated to modernizing the European transport infrastructure.

One of the most important topics on the EU’s agenda relates to European Defence Fund’s (EDF) implementation mechanisms. To that end, the Council is monitoring the results of the current activities under the Research window (Preparatory Action on Defence Research/PADR) and the Capability window (European Defence Industrial Development Programme/EDIDP). In the next weeks the Work programme for the EDIDP should be finalized and adopted, with a view to starting funding concrete projects from the capability window, as soon as possible in 2019.

The Council has agreed on a general approach on the proposal for a Regulation establishing the EDF, with applicability in the future Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027, as a negotiation basis with the European Parliament. It is expected that an agreement with the Parliament on this essential component of the defence package could be reached in the first part of the next year, during the Romanian presidency of the EU Council.

Among the concrete subjects managed by EDA, there were approached the Coordinated Annual Review on Defence (CARD) and the Capability Development Priorities. The first full CARD cycle will be launched in the second half of 2019, based on the lessons learned from the trial run of the process. The main conclusion from the CARD Trial Run Report indicates that Member States continue to carry defence planning and acquisition mostly from a national perspective.

The Agency presented the specific practical implementation mechanisms of the 11 new EU Capability Development Priorities, approved in June: Enabling capabilities for Cyber Responsive operations, Space-based Information and Communication services, Information superiority, Ground Combat Capabilities, Enhanced logistic and medical supporting capabilities, Underwater Control contributing to resilience at sea, Air Superiority, Air Mobility, Integration of military Air capabilities in a changing aviation sector and Cross-domain capabilities contributing to achieve EU’s Level of Ambition. For each of these areas, a Strategic Context Case will be elaborated and presented for approval by June 2019.

Instead of conclusions

The answer to the question in the title seems to be quite difficult to provide at this moment. Directly questioned regarding this topic, at the press conference following the FAC meeting, Federica Mogherini, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, underlined Union’s eminently politic nature, underscoring that there is no competition and duplication with NATO and that EU “is not building a European army here, nobody is doing a European army”.

On the other hand, it is pretty evident that France and Germany, unconstrained by London’s reserved and scrutinized attitude, will continue to pressure the community block towards consolidating the European defence.

In the first half of the next year, Romania will have to concretely manage the hot files incorporated in the military dimension of Common Security and Defence Policy. This will lead to a complex navigation between increasing euro-skeptical tendencies, both at European and national levels, and Brussels more and more consistent commitment to consolidating Union’s military profile.

From this perspective, Romania will face at least a challenging first EU Council presidency, if we consider the traditional slowness of some decisions with a strategic impact, led by the inertia of a European bureaucracy which is continuously growing. On the other hand the main results of the November FAC meeting  is confirming that in the first part of the next year EU will be witnessing some important military developments, with direct implication for the definition of the main working principles of the future common European defence.


i) https://www.consilium.europa.eu/media/37030/st13978-en18.pdf
ii) https://eeas.europa.eu/headquarters/headquarters-homepage/54080/remarks-high-representativevice-president-federica-mogherini-upon-arrival-foreign-affairs_en