The European Union is unlikely to establish the army commission president Jean-Claude Juncker calls for — especially now tensions with Russia are so high.
Juncker, the former premier of Luxembourg who has presided over the bloc’s executive arm since November, lamented in an interview with Germany’s Die Welt on Sunday that Europe has lost respect in the world.
“In foreign policy too, we don’t seem to be taken entirely seriously,” he said.
Put together, the countries in the European Union are the world’s largest economy. Yet divergent interests and the existence of NATO as a joint defense force have often undermined the bloc’s influence on the world stage.
A single European army, Juncker said, “would send a clear message to Russia that we are serious about defending European values.”
Which is exactly why establishing such an army now — if at all — would be problematic.
The Atlantic Sentinel‘s James R. Pritchett argued in 2009 that “a militarized EU would pose a markedly similar presence to NATO to be almost identical, if not more threatening, to Russia’s position and sense of security.”
It is Russia’s insecurity complex that compelled it to invade Ukraine last year and annex the Crimea when Europe was on the verge of signing an association agreement with the former Soviet state. It has criticized NATO expansion since the end of the Cold War and rightly sees the spread of liberal democratic and economic values under the auspices of EU enlargement as a challenge to its regime stability. If even a fellow Slavic people like the Ukrainians can be “Westernized,” why should Russians continue to live under authoritarian governments like Vladimir Putin’s?
A European army would send a “clear message” to Russia all right. But is Juncker really prepared for the consequences?
What is more, Europe’s main military powers are far from eager to join forces.
France, which has Europe’s largest army in terms of manpower, might be interested in a single European defense. But only if it was in charge.
The United Kingdom, the European country that spends the most on its military, has no interest in a European army whatsoever.
“Our position is crystal clear,” said a government spokesperson after Juncker made his proposal: “that defense is a national — not an EU — responsibility and that there is no prospect of that position changing and no prospect of a European army.”
Germany’s defense minister, Ursula Von der Leyen, was ambiguous at best. Europe’s largest economy might be prepared to put its soldiers under the control of another nation “under certain circumstances” but “not in the short term,” she said.
The reason countries hesitate is that a European army would naturally compete with NATO, whatever Juncker’s claims to the contrary. Few European governments are interested in weakening that transatlantic bond.
Further integration of armed forces would also raise tricky questions about national sovereignty.
To quote Pritchett once more, what would such a force be “but an autonomous gendarmerie, keeping everyone towing the same European line even if they didn’t want to?”
One dreads the possibility that Brussels could order action to prevent “cessation from the union” by military force.
That may be far-fetched. Then again, if a European army were not centrally commanded from Brussels, what would be the point of it?
The reality is that so long as NATO exists and EU member states remain just that; states, there is no reason for a separate and single European fighting force.