Making Europe stronger: Why the EU needs a common army

, by Gesine Weber, Marie Menke, translated by Bastian De Monte

All the versions of this article: [Deutsch] [English]

Making Europe stronger: Why the EU needs a common army
Closer cooperation between Member States in the field of defence could not be realised so far. Photo: CC0

It’s election time this May and JEF Germany are doing a #EuropaMachen campaign for a better European Union. The New Federalist and its German sister edition Treffpunkt Europa look at their demands – today: a European army and a common seat at the UN Security Council!

Already, soldiers from different Member States are jointly deployed on certain missions. An EU army does not exist, however. Proponents of this idea consider it an indispensable element of an effective European foreign policy, critics fear that nation-states lose a vital competence.

What’s it all about?

In the past years, the possibilities for EU Member States to cooperate in the field of foreign and security policy have been extended significantly. In some cases, Member States jointly sent soldiers and experts abroad on a mission. A true European army, like the German Bundeswehr, does not exist on the EU level. But that’s exactly what JEF is calling for, so that the EU can act faster and more efficiently.

Moreover, they demand a common EU seat at the United Nations Security Council. The latter issues so-called resolutions which aim at safeguarding international peace: in 2018, for instance, it decided that UN peacekeepers would continue to watch the armistice in Cyprus. With France and the UK, two Member States of the European Union have permanently been part of the council, and that for a long time. According to the EU treaties, they have to take a stand for the interests of the Union. In the light of Brexit, the EU fears to lose influence in the UN Security Council, however.

What do critics say?

Those critical of an EU army argue that Member States are not ready to give up this sensitive national competence. Instead, countries should continue being in charge of their armies, which is seen as a purely national, not European, responsibility. They also say that a European army is not realistic given different strategic cultures, e.g. varying views on which role an army plays overseas, for example.

Moreover, sceptics point out legal and practical obstacles. The question under which circumstances an army can be deployed, is answered differently by different Member States. In France, it’s the president who decides – in Germany, it’s the parliament. To find consensus might be hard. Different countries also use different technical systems, often due to the national development thereof. A European army, in turn, would require some harmonisation regarding ammunition. Certain types of ammunition would then become obsolete, which could cause economic damage to the country producing it. And that makes it hard to get every Member State on board.

Some critics of a common Security Council seat do not want the EU to be represented like a nation-state, like a country, on the international stage: They deem it inappropriate for a union of several states to be part of the institution. Others again, would disagree but submit that the EU is not (yet) ready to bear the responsibility associated therewith, also given different positions on foreign policy questions. When it comes to Russia, for instance, consensus is rare.

What do supporters say?

Proponents argue that, compared to global players like the US, China, and Russia, European countries alone are insignificant or even dependent. With a common army, the EU could act more effectively and would become a credible and capable actor on the international stage. Integrating forces, materiel and transport will help to save costs and thus offer Member States financial advantages.

At the same time, a European army will promote European integration: When after WWII, coal and steel production were put under common supervision, war between Member States was factually made impossible. And ever since has Europe lived in peace. A European army is thus not only feasible but simply the next logical step for the EU.

Supporters of a common EU seat the UN Security Council similarly put forward that it is imperative for the EU to speak with a single – and therefore even stronger – voice on the world stage. They also see it as a means to have all views on foreign policy and security matters from EU members represented, not only those of bigger countries.

What’s your take ... om an EU army?

Gesine Weber
Editor-in-Chief at Treffpunkt Europe
“In the long term, an EU army might be an important step for European integration. But before we plan an army, we need to consider some practical issues: How can we reconcile the different national rules for overseas deployment, which systems are we using, how can we create a European strategic culture? Therefore we first need to extend military cooperation within the existing framework; otherwise we’d make the last step before the first.”

“In order to make Europe stronger, we need a common army. Currently, each Member State has its own – Germany, for instance, has the Bundeswehr. With a European army, we could share soldiers, vehicles, weapons, and especially knowledge and experience. European security and defence policy would be strengthened and the EU would send a strong signal to the outside world. In addition, Member States could save money because they wouldn’t have to sustain their own army.”
Pia Schulte
Vice-President JEF Germany

... on an EU seat at the UN Security Council?

Georg Händel
Observer in the JEF Germany presidium
“Despite all problems, the UN Security Council is the most important body for peace and security on the international level, and that’s not going to change in the foreseeable future. After Brexit, France will be the only EU country to be represented. To maintain respect and esteem as a global player, it will be necessary to transform this seat into a common EU seat. The logical consequence to a common army can only be a common seat at the Security Council.”

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