EU and UK: “The European Army”

In a twitter posted by Carl Bildt on September 27, 2016, the Swedish diplomat wrote: “UK says that they will ‘fight against EU army’. Fine. Fighting phantoms seems to be a special sport in some UK circles.”  His skepticism on completing such a project is reached only by his irony in criticizing the British “fear” related to the “European army” project. The twitter received appreciations high above the average reached by the diplomat’s digital network (231) and numerous retransmissions (160). It’s a sign that the opinion of the former Swedish PM benefits from a wide circulation among specialists. But comments on this twitter deserve to be noted, at least one of them.

Some of them refer to the fact that UK will have a few means to stay against the project, since it is outside EU (Parliament, European Commission, summits). One of these comments specifies: “for good or bad what the UK thinks does no longer count one iota. Won’t be in the EU by the time is approved.” Ironic comments are also present – “Why do they even care if we’re leaving? Paranoia of European invasion?”, as well as the solidarity of the British hesitation:  “The UK announcement was more a support for NATO’s integrity. An EU army will unnecessarily split and weaken the alliance.” Or the lack of trust in the future European military instrument, in the absence of the “tuff guys”: “Without US/UK/Turkey, EU army will be a subscale, ineffective fighting force backed up by a phantom ‘union’ “.

Bildt’s note was caused by the echo of the meeting of the defense ministers of the EU Member States held in Bratislava on September 27. Various opinions were expressed here related to how the “European army” will be founded and used. For instance, Italy came with a real program and schedule of formatting this “European army”, which became known one day before the meeting, by publishing a position document. It stated that the EU army must be “powerful and usable” including “in support of NATO and UN operations”. Calling this military instrument European Multinational Force (EMF), the document stated that it must be created by “available member states willing to share forces, command and control, maneuver and enabling capabilities”. It also mentions that EMF must be led by a new formed EU command. The Italian proposal in this field is different from the French and German plans. The latter refer to integration of the defense as a process that must be accelerated, while Italians propose that the integration of the defense should be preceded by the EMF construction. We have to also mention that the “European army” is not a conceptual novelty; efforts were made since the end of the 90s, in the last century (from the French – British agreement of St. Malo in 1997) for a continental military construction. Seen with skepticism by Washington, being suspected to duplicate NATO and possibly leaving this alliance to become outdated, the European military construction continued to be considered by the EU officials, but the development of the process was contradictory, so that today there are a lot of “battlegroups” formed by forces belonging to 3 or 4 component nations.

There is also an Eurocorp (which isn’t used yet), however these European forces are formed by the ones meant to be part of the pool needed by NATO if necessary, so the “European army” is still at the beginning. The French-German position, in its turn, was exposed two weeks before the meeting in Bratislava, stating that France and Germany are favorable to founding “a permanent HQ for the military and civilian missions and operations of the EU … an objective for the medium-term”, but the responsibility for defense remains the mission of the component states. It mentions also that at the Eurocorps level a new security policy will be launched, and this structure, headquartered in Strasbourg, will be in the vanguard of the action (Eurocorps component states: Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and Poland). It is also stated that EU must have its own strategic assets (air-lift capacity or space auctioning capacity, as well as the capacity of top electronic monitoring of the operations theaters), it must have a budget for possible military actions and for research and development, it has to provide joint training of the officers and have “an authentically European esprit de corps”. What the French-German position document does very clear, mentioning Brexit, is to say that in the current circumstances EU has to accentuate the continental integrity. Thus, it is shown that “taking into account the fact that the United Kingdom has decided to leave the European Union, we must henceforth act at 27”, because “the credibility of the entire European Union” is in difficulty. We have to say that the French-German document doesn’t mention Russia and its assertiveness marked in the East of the continent.

The exclusive accent is on the Southern azimuth which is threatening EU, called “key-areas”, such as the Mediterranean region and the former French colonies in the Western and Central Africa, as well as EU military operations already held or ongoing in Libya and Somalia, in Mali or in the Central African Republic. The EU territorial integrity is mentioned in the context of the migrants’ crisis and the necessity of its management by consolidating a guard force of the threatened coastlines and continental borders. The difference between the Italian project and the French-German one is obvious, but both of them aim to relaunch EU by strengthening military cooperation, specifying – expressly, in the French-German document and indirectly in the other one – that thus Brexit receives an answer. We can see why this option for an answer has been chosen, from the definitely negative UK’s reaction. The British Minister of Defense, M. Fallon (who wasn’t present at the meeting in Bratislava) said that he rejects this initiative, but that this position will be expressed at the EU summit in December.

A source in the Defense Ministry from London said under anonymity that “[Mr. Fallon] will oppose anything that duplicates NATO – whether an EU army, an EU operational HQ or anything else that undermines what is the cornerstone of our collective security. That is not going to change.” The same source mentioned that UK will ask EU “to step up its efforts in areas such as counter terrorism and migration – not duplicate NATO with things like an EU army.” Therefore, the Summit in December 2016 will be definitely tensed. Besides, things are not very clear also in EU, from this perspective. Recent analysis reveal that states from the East of Europe, concerned on the Russia’s assertiveness, will make opposition, and the French-German bloc is not as solid as it wants to seem. Of course, it’s about using an opportunity (Brexit) to gain certain leading positions in NATO and in the competition between the European defense industry and the British or even the American ne, but otherwise, both of the great European forces would aim opposite objectives.

France would like to use German money to boost the European defense, and in the expert Jan Techau’s opinion: “The question is: Are the Germans willing to put themselves up not just for logistics and medical training, but also the high-risk kinetic part? That has been the problem in any project where French and German troops were integrated.” The article from which I’ve quoted the above mentioned opinion is suggestively called “Disorder in the Ranks on EU Defense Plans” and it was published in “Politico” right on the day when the meeting in Bratislava took place, being signed by two known analysts. Therefore, Carl Bildt’s post on twitter from the beginning of this article is the expression of a skepticism present at European level, related to a European army, which file is now invoked to force UK to reconsider its maximal objectives aimed in the Brexit negotiation.

But more than anything, this file reveals not only how parties will position themselves in the negotiation on the UK’s exit from EU, but especially how tightly they are bound from the perspective of the European security and inside NATO. And this reality is auspicious even for the conclusion of the above mentioned negotiations, because it excludes a hard Brexit, the project being a compromise, maybe even empty of content. The alternative would obviously be both of the parties’ weakening from the perspective of their own security. Basically, Brexit and its consequences bring to the forefront, for both of the parties, UK and EU, the issue of their relationship with NATO and the application of the Article 5 in case of aggression against one of the allies. Theoretically, UK would be obliged to support any assaulted EU state, due to the relations within the alliance, while in case of an assault against UK, this reciprocity is not valid if a “European army” would exist.

Of course, this issue could be basically solved by a direct agreement between NATO and EU, but UK should change its grand strategy of defense anyway. Which is not as simple as that, without short-term and long-term costs. It is probably one of the main reasons for which PM T. May announced on October 1 that by the end of next March, London will request to start the negotiations with EU for implementing Brexit.

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