The leaders of the European Parliament’s largest party are pushing ahead with plans to introduce a European Union (EU) army, justifying the measure by citing concerns over “Russian aggression” and containment of the migrant crisis: “We are going to move towards an EU army much faster than people believe,” European People’s Party president Joseph Daul has said.
The party’s plans go further even than those of Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who made waves over the summer with his proposals for a Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). Whereas Junker’s vision was for a force capable of dealing with post-conflict missions, the party wants to see a force capable of taking on missions of a “higher intensity,” according to reports from Euractiv.
The proposals will be discussed at a summit held by the leaders of the European Peoples’ Party (EPP), due to take place in Madrid next week. The centre right party holds 217 of the European Parliament’s 751 seats, making it the largest single party in the Parliament, and was home to the British Conservative Party delegation in the Parliament until 2010.
“European defence cooperation remains a patchwork of bilateral and multilateral agreements,” read a comprehensive strategic note issued at the behest of President Juncker in June. “It is time for a reckoning: traditional methods of cooperation have reached their limits and proved insufficient. European defence needs a paradigm change in line with the exponential increase in global threats and the volatility of our neighbourhood,” he continued.
“EU’s soft power must be matched by collective hard power and a more efficient use of our €210 billion yearly defence spending,” it argues. The paper went largely unnoticed in the midst of the migrant crisis sweeping across the continent.
The EPP’s paper for discussion responds: “In today’s security environment, the CSDP stand as one of the weakest spots of the EU’s project for peace, integration and development. Rising threats must now lead to a change in mind-set.
“Moving beyond CSDP’s focus on post-conflict and low-intensity missions to being able to conduct territorial defence and higher intensity.”
The paper calls for European operational headquarters to replace the piecemeal system of national governments directing their own forces, as provided for in the Lisbon treaty. It also wants to see border control, including European coastguard capabilities, handed to the new army.
Looking beyond the migrant crisis, the EPP’s leaders identify Putin’s Russia as another threat requiring the response of an EU army:
“Russian aggression against members of the EU and NATO must be deterred,” the paper insists. “This presupposes, first of all, a NATO which is militarily stronger thanks to more and smarter defence spending but also higher levels of pooling and sharing of military infrastructure, materiel and personnel between member states of the EU and NATO.”
Attempts to form a common defence force have been part of the European project since its inception. In 1950, French Prime Minister René Pleven proposed ambitious plans for defence integration, including the setting up of European Army and the appointment of a European minister of defence. But his own country slammed the brakes on the plan before it could be launched.
But now the EPP has hit out against “enlargement fatigue,” insisting that the time is right for the European Army to be formulated.
“Enlargement has been the most successful European polices and has proven the importance of the EU model,” the party’s leaders insist. “The EU should not be caught up in enlargement fatigue, but should rather keep a pro-EU spirit in the region of the Western Balkans alive and support the aspirations of these countries to join the EU.”
“We need to open up much more and develop cooperation with the Western Balkans. We will listen much more to EPP leaders in these countries,” said Joseph Daul.
In March of this year, Britain rejected yet more calls from Juncker for an EU army, saying: “Our position is crystal clear that defence is a national – not an EU – responsibility and that there is no prospect of that position changing and no prospect of a European army.”
But in President Juncker and President Donald Tusk, the EPP holds the Presidencies of the Commission and the European Council, as well as 14 of the 28 Commissioner positions and 10 of the 28 Council seats. Ten EU and 6 non-EU heads of state and government are also members, putting it in a dominant position in European politics and making its plans all the more likely to come to fruition.
Just last month the German Chancellor Angela Merkel promised that British Prime Minister David Cameron would fail to secure any meaningful renegotiation of Britain’s relationship with the EU unless he openly supported the idea of an EU army. “If you want favours, you have to give favours,” a Berlin source said.
Last year UKIP leader Nigel Farage argued that the EU wanted to create an army. He was derided by those in the political establishment, including his debate opponent former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who called Mr. Farage’s assertions a “fantasy”.