27 June 2019

The European Army, more than a stone thrown in the lake that we all jumped in for

Niculae Iancu

On 6th of November 2018, French President Emmanuel Macron launched the idea of ​​a European army, without actually offering any other further details about it. His message’s ambiguity left room for many speculation and increased a plethora of analysis and opinions in the Euro-Atlantic area. The idea was embraced and supported by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who placed the topic within European Union’s current framework. Process’s justification would be the many security threats’ increase against EU, but also the growing distrust of Europeans regarding President Donald Trump's foreign policy. Although today one can say that a debate on a European army creation cannot take place at European level, due to many internal and foreign reasons, the seed has been planted and time will tell us what can emerge of a so cramped land.

Image source: Mediafax

The French idea of a “real European army”

At the beginning of November, last year, French President Emmanuel Macron launched the idea of ​​a "European army". He talked about it during an interview for the French radio station, Europe 1, within the preparatory actions for armistice’s centennial commemoration that led to First World War’a military confrontations’ end. "We must protect ourselves against China, Russia and even the United States of America," said Emmanuel Macron during the interview, arguing by saying that “When I see President Trump announcing that he’s quitting a major disarmament treaty which was formed after the 1980s Euro-missile crisis that hit Europe, who is the main victim? Europe and its security.” As a conclusion, he said that "we will not be able to protect the Europeans until we decide that we need a real European army." Moreover, "we need a Europe that can defend itself better, without relying on US, in a much more sovereign manner."

During a week, there were a series of events which involved President's visit at the battlefields in Northeastern France, including the place whereat Germany signed its surrender, near Compiegne in east of France, together with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The main event of armistice’s centennial ceremony was to take place along more than sixty heads of state and governments and senior EU officials, as well as UN officials and other international organizations. Among them, US President Donald Trump and President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin. The central topic of Macron's speech was going be the " nationalism threat," seen as a "betrayal of moral values ​​and patriotism," which, in his perspective, gets dangerous shapes "when we say that our interests are primordial, and the interests of others do not matter", most likely pointing at President Trump's" America First "policy, as the international media was remarking.

This is how it was ending a week full of events filled with the emotion of millions of casualties’ remembrance and the disaster caused by the Great War, on whose ruins the effective civilization and European order raised upon slowly and through great challenges. It was the perfect opportunity to reinforce Western’s unity against all kinds of threats, given that threats on Euro-Atlantic’s security increased a lot. However, Macron also used a metaphor of the "ancient demons’ redeeming, prepared to bring chaos and death," as change’s leitmotiv.

Maybe this symbolic moment on reaffirming democratic world’s unity has revealed division rather than unity and restlessness rather than hope. However, the basis of the future European army was certainly created. Afterwards, all debates analyzed the idea and reinterpret it in minimalist or exaggerated tones, as critical speeches, analyzes or narratives, neutral or unnaturally enthusiastic assumed, in order to try to support this new type of security and defence identity for the European space, at the horizon of the new global order.


German legitimacy

On 14th of November 2018, three days after Armistice’s Commemoration, Angela Merkel was showing Federal Germany's support for a European army, during a speech on the future of Europe, held in Strasbourg, in front of European parliamentarian. The German Chancellor's message revealed synchronicities with the French idea, but also a profoundly unionistic tendency, characteristic for Berlin's European policy. Merkel has placed Macron's vision within the European Union framework, although the French President did not actually stated that the blue 12-golden-stars flag will be waving ahead his future European army. The semantic anchor of Angela Merkel’s strategic move was made after the statement of European Commission’s President, Jean-Claude Juncker, who said that "a common European army will show the world that there will never be war in Europe." At the same time, the head of German federal government mentioned European army’s complementarity principle with the North Atlantic Alliance, whose mission - protecting Europe from major threats- reinforces Donald Trump's allegations for financing some “pan-European defense projects” outside NATO. 

The European Union seems more determined than ever to increase its common defence. During the participation at the Prague Security and Defense Conference, in June 2017, Juncker also stated that “our deference to NATO can no longer be used as a convenient alibi to argue against greater European efforts", even if he was also saying that "better defense cooperation will not lead to the creation of an EU army." Equally, the head of the European executive tried, diplomatically, to decrease criticism’s pressure against Trump's security policies, saying that "the world around us is changing. The United States has fundamentally changed its foreign policy, long before the arrival of Donald Trump. In the last decade, it has become clear that our American partners consider that they are shouldering too much of the burden for their wealthy European Allies.”

Given these circumstances, Merkel was remarking, during her Strasbourg speech, that Europe faces many logistical obstacles to greater integration in the military field, starting from the disproportionately large number of complex weapons systems, endowed in EU Member States’ armed forces, comparing, for example, with the US Armed Forces situation. Furthermore, such numbers, together with the insufficient budgets allocated for defense by EU countries’ parliaments and the ineffectiveness of using these funds in increasing the fight capacity of their own army, have also provided initiatives’ metric of the European common defense package that have increased a lot over the past two years.

On the other hand, the Franco-German conceptual synonymy can be found in present’s definition as "the time when we can no longer count on each other", with a clear reference to American President's blunt vision on the transatlantic relationship. Therefore, Merkel also offered the German extension of common defence’s concept when saying that "there is nothing more left for us, Europeans, than taking the destiny in our own hands if we want to survive as the Union. This means, on a long-term basis, that Europe will become more capable to act. We need to reconsider our decision-making process and give up the unanimity principle where European treaties allow us and when needed. I have proposed a European Security Council to make quicker decisions." It was clear that setting up President Donald Trump at the White House has activated Europeans' self-defence instincts and favored the speeding up of Union European’s new military profile development. Still, although ambiguous, setting up a European Security Council, following the idea launched by Germany, which could be the future working format for joint decisions in the field of European foreign affairs and security, should not be ignored. This would require a better integration in these areas and, consequently, it could significantly increase the need of a European army.

It is worth recalling that Angela Merkel's speech perspectives were anticipated by German Defense Minister, Ursula von der Leyen, who had immediately stated, after President Macron's idea launch, that "a European army should be established within the European Union and not outside it. This is why the European Union of Defense was created a year ago”. We should bear in mind that Ursula von der Leyen reiterated that troops’ missions’ responsibility must remain in each nation’s hands. It is interesting that Bundeswehr’s head used the term "European Army", along with "Europeans’ Army", which raised, in the months that followed, different analytical presumptions in terms of the meaning of the future European army.

Steps made towards a European Union of Defence

The idea of ​​a European army is not something new. Even its French origin was preserved. Back in the 1950s, due to the rise of the communist danger and West Germany’s rearmament need, Jean Monnet, the president of the French National Planning Council, started the European defense project on supranational basis. The concept, called the European Defense Community, was asking for the creation of a European army, placed under supranational authority and financed by a common budget. Decisions were to be taken by a European Defense Council and implemented by the European Defense Minister. The founding treaty was initially signed by France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg and, subsequently, supported by UK with limited participation and politically backed by Dwight D. Eisenhower, at that time NATO SACEUR. Paradoxically, the project was disintegrated by France itself, in August 1954, after refusing to discuss its ratification within the National Assembly. At the same time, NATO was going to approve Federal Germany’s entry into the Alliance in the same year and end the hesitations regarding the future of most of the German nation, a decade after the end of the World War II. The signification of democratic Europe’s integration was going to be only political and economic-based for almost half of century.

The participation of most EU states at the Joint Security Task Force, under the aegis of the North Atlantic Alliance, would have naturally vanish any strong  initiative to integrate the Union in  defence, until the emergence of unexampled turbulences the European security has ever faced. There were also European security identities, in terms of US’s foreign policy actions counterpoint, during the 1990s Balkan wars, or the unilateral Washington decision to attack Iraq in 2003. However, EU’s strategic autonomy issue and the need to strengthen its military profile have intensified, due to Russia’s aggressions increase at the eastern border of the Union, ended with the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014. Moreover, Moscow's propaganda and interference in European electoral processes, the rise of some illiberal regimes within the Union, the international challenges against transatlantic security construction’s stability and Trump Administration’s succession of unilateralist decisions in international security’s  hot topics were the reasons for Brussels' security reforms acceleration and the creation of strong alternatives, to have common security guarantee forces, for members in the front line, against security threats coming from continent’s East and South regions.

The "strategic autonomy" concept, along with "European sovereignty", are covering more than the debate space, limited by the European Union of Defense. These include the need of a new vision on foreign affairs, economic and trade policy reforms, increased cohesion in internal security issues, and new models of joint responsibility and decision in all of Union’s areas.

As for the defence dimension, EU has gone through several regulatory steps and experienced, over the past two decades, the functionality of military cooperation procedures, at both command and control level, as well as across multi-crisis operations in Europe, Asia and Africa.

The Franco-British joint declaration, made at the end of the Saint-Malo Summit, in December 1998, asked for the need to assert EU's strategic decision-making capacity, supported by a credible military force, in response to international crises that NATO is not involved in. It was the start of the Common Security and Defense Policy, wherein 34 joint missions under the EU flag were about to be executed for almost two decades.

Recently, on 14th of November 2016, Federica Mogherini, Commission’s High Representative / Vice-President, presented the Implementation Plan of the current EU Global Security and Defense Strategy within member states’ Joint Council of Foreign and Defense Ministers. On this occasion, it was established Union’s ambition level in security and defence’s field, as three strategic priorities for "response to external conflicts and crises", "build the capacities of our partners" and "protecting the Union and its citizens" against major security challenges and threats. In order to achieve the assumed ambition level, the Council agreed on the operationalization of three instruments for the Joint Defense Package: the Coordinated Annual Review on Defence (CARD), the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) and the European Defense Fund (EDF), aiming at recovering the technological gaps in the military field, comparing to major global players, including US, and at increasing the effectiveness, development and common use of future military capabilities.

 Despite all these unexampled efforts for the European defense, President Macron launched, in September 2017, the idea of ​​a European Intervention Initiative (EI2), placed outside EU and NATO. This initiative’s objective has a way too general definition and refers to the "development of a common strategic culture", raising many speculations in the media. Also, the project that nine other states joined and adopted by signing a letter of intent at the level of defense ministers on 25th of June, 2018, can also be seen as a critique against EU's decision-making and action mechanisms’ slowness or inefficiency. Apparently, the initiative will focus on issues such as the ability to deploy joint European military operations, evacuation of civilians from war zones, or providing relief from natural disasters.

Although the French Defense Ministry is clear when placing EI2 outside EU and PESCO, the European Initiative for Intervention cannot be ignored when analyzing how to implement the idea of ​​the future European army, nor confused with the expected solution, as it happens today in the public space and the profile fields. Furthermore, we should bear in mind that EI2 assumes the open door policy, which is likely to overcome obstacles and constraints that might have interfered, for example, with the UK's post-Brexit presence in a common European defense format.

We must also remark that EI2 is by no means the first defense co-operation initiative. There is already a significant number of joint forces, expeditionary forces, combined forces, brigades and multinational fighting groups spread throughout Europe. However, Macron initiative’s presumed uniqueness is reflected in the use of larger European defense cooperation, built on a common strategic and operational language, able to reduce how member states are differently perceiving threats and, implicitly, to increase readiness against them.


Is it really enough saying that we will have a European army on the old continent, whether if it’s going to be inside or outside EU? Does the idea of ​​a European army include extensive defense cooperation or the existence of a supranational military force?

A possible answer must start from understanding that regardless of the format and intensity of military co-operation among states, result cannot, now, be seen as a supra-state military entity. As long as the state continues to represent the main organization unit of the international system, the political responsibility rate on using the national military resources and, implicitly, on soldiers’ lives sent to war will always be limited. In all supra-state constructions existent until now, the military dimension has proved to be an untouchable landmark of national sovereignty. This reality is found even in the organization logic and functioning of military alliances. Alignment’s result is the army alliance and not the alliance's army. There is no NATO army. Then, how can we talk about a European army?

For the European army to be not only an "alliance" of European armies or “Europeans’ army ", the solution must be found in European Union vision of organization and functioning. Union’s successive stages of integration have proved that, over the decades, the essential limits induced by national sovereignty could have been overcome. Perhaps, a century ago, we could not think of people moving, unhindered, into a Europe to have no borders. It would have been even harder to imagine that a single currency would be used throughout this territory and that the official flag would display the same flag. Who would have thought that one could go every morning to work outside the border and, after ending his activity, he would receive all his financial rights for the work he had done. The European Union, in the beginning of the 21st Century, is economically, legally and socially integrated. Also, the political integration is unprecedented. The Union is governed by an elected parliament, after free votes, and by an executive community, which are part of a democratic system, alongside the collective decision-making bodies of national officials.

However, for EU to have a single army more things need to be done. A military system wherein nationality should not matter. An army to have European militaries, and not militaries coming from the member states. A unique military body, neutral to national political and legal limitations, a flexible, a highly versatile body with unrestricted readiness and mobility. Therefore, a European army cannot exist without a unitary European military system to have a transnational hierarchical structure and multinational composition. Its construction should begin from the top of the political command hierarchy. From transforming the current political institutions, so that they can take over and apply the authority give European sovereignty’s right. Such characteristics would be legitimate if the fundamental changes in electoral and representation mechanisms, so discussed and challenged in the last decade, were to take place.

The legitimacy of military field’s sensitive decisions cannot be effective given the current framework of national politicians’ proportional representation within the Community forum. Speculations on the foremost national interests, in the detriment of the common ones, promoted by the majority of nationalist foundations, will continue to emerge. Implementing EU’s leadership structures’ decisions within Union of Defence’s framework will require the creation of European Defense Minister and Commander of the European Defense Staff positions, who will have to be designated through a Community selection and validation mechanism, and not by applying nowadays’ principle of national representativeness, following the European Commission’s logic. Hence, Union of Defense structure’s projection can continue, on a hierarchical scale, echelon after the echelon, up to the unity level, subunit, and individual. What if the European army would have structures of force as today's Directorates-General within the Commission, with a civilian director, for each force category and a military commander? Would it be possible to select and appoint commanders from all echelons, following a joint procedure, based on a European career guidance guide? Will militaries be recruited, as European citizens, and distributed to units anywhere in Europe, depending on the needs of the military institution? Will the European Defense Agency be the future structure for European army’s capabilities research and development coordination, as a unique authority to acquire complex weapons systems and certify outputs from the production chains of the future European defense industrial base? And the list of questions can go on…

Such questions’ sensitiveness asks for analysis patience and strong certainty for major decisions. The current international security context is totally unfavorable for launching a substantial debate on a real European Defense Union. Such a debate can amplify the tones, emphasize asperities and even radicalize both camps around the European construction. Both unionists and federalists, as well as euroskeptics, will find enough resources for virulent narratives, with fatalistic nuances, built on extrapolating emotions and calling on Europe and European’s unhappy fates. They will call on the extremes that the creation of a future European empire gives and EU’s collapse and seizure, piece by piece, by an aggressive and revisionist Russia.

Implementing such a complex and great project like the European army, asks, first of all, political will and strategic culture, historical accurateness, economic rationality and, particularly, Union’s people support, from the Cabo de Roca, in Portugal, up to the Romanian Sulina. Until we get there, the European army will remain only an ambition. Or a stone thrown in the lake, waiting to be found.

Translated by Andreea Soare