European Union (EU) officials are pressing ahead with plans to create an EU army, capitalising on the political vacuum caused by the imminent departure of Britain from the union to move the project forward.
A timetable setting out the steps to create joint EU military structures “to act autonomously” from NATO will be laid out by the Commission President Jean-Claude Junker in his ‘State of the Union’ address next week, reported The Times.
The plans, which include creating a unified command structure for EU military operations, joint military hardware investment, and standardised equipment for all member states, have been masterminded by the EU’s Foreign Policy chief, Federica Mogherini.
Ms. Mogherini is said to have told colleagues that the plan represented a chance for the union to relaunch itself after the “shocking” British vote to leave the EU.
“We have the political space today to do things that were not really doable in previous years,” she told EU ambassadors.
“It might sound a bit dramatic but we are at this turning point. We could relaunch our European project and make it more functional and powerful for our citizens and the rest of the world. Or we could diminish its intensity and power.”
Her plans for the EU military structure to act independently of NATO have raised fears that the EU is seeking to pose itself as a rival to the alliance, which includes the U.S., Canada, and Turkey as well as a number of European countries.
A senior German government official told Reuters: “That is not about competing with NATO but we need a stronger Europe. If we wait for the Eurosceptics, then we will only go backwards.”
But last year just five countries – the U.S., the UK, Poland, Greece, and Estonia – met the NATO obligation to spend two percent of GDP on defence, suggesting that the remaining countries do not take the alliance seriously.
Geoffrey Van Orden MEP, defence spokesman for Conservatives in the European Parliament, said: “We can all see that the EU might play a useful role in conflict prevention and in some civil aspects of crisis management. But its ambitions go beyond that.
“The EU motive is not to create additional military capability but to achieve defence integration as a key step on the road to a federal EU state.
“The U.S. and indeed the UK are being misled if they imagine that such moves will enhance NATO – the key guarantor of our collective defence.
“On the contrary, creation of EU defence structures, separate from NATO, will only lead to division between transatlantic partners at a time when solidarity is needed in the face of many difficult and dangerous threats to the democracies.”
The plan has gained support from the Czech Republic and Hungary, who last week hailed the plan as a basis for “setting up a joint European army”. The Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is also said to be in favour, having pushed for more defence cooperation.
However, Poland and Slovakia are said to be less enthused about the idea, despite Poland being touted as one of the key countries in the initial stages.
The plans will be discussed at a summit of 27 EU member states next week, at which Theresa May will not be present. Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is said to be planning to use the meeting to orchestrate a shift of power away from Brussels and towards former communist Eastern European countries.
“Brexit is a fantastic opportunity for us. We are at a historic cultural moment. There is a possibility of a cultural counter-revolution right now,” he said.
Despite the obvious ambitions of those proposing the merger, Ms. Mogherini has denied that the plans amount to the creation of an EU army, insisting merely that they constitute only the creation of an EU-wide counter-terrorism measure.
But British figures who warned of the imminent creation of an EU army during the run-up to the referendum on British membership are pointing to the reports as evidence of vindication.
Mike Hookem, UKIP’s defence spokesman, said that his party had been warning about the threat of an EU army for years.
“I’m pleased to see people are finally waking up,” he said. “An EU army is not some Eurosceptic fantasy, there are many in Brussels hell-bent on making it happen.”