In 2018, the leaders of France and Germany called for a “true European army”. Since then, the arguments for deeper EU defence integration have seemingly grown more persuasive: the world is becoming a more volatile and geopolitical place; economic pressures on defence spending are almost certainly going to increase given the impact of COVID-19 on national budgets; NATO is experiencing “brain death”, and Britain (which contributed around 20% of all EU military capabilities) has finally left the EU.
Yet what would a “European army” actually mean in practice? How would decisions be made about priorities and deployments? What would the command structure look like? Would citizens really be willing to fight and die for Europe (particularly when the EU can’t even agree a budget without descending into acrimonious squabbling)?
Curious to know more about proposals for a European army? We’ve put together some facts and figures in the infographic below (click for a bigger version).
What do our readers think? We had a comment sent in from Irene, saying: “With Trump, Brexit and Putin, EU countries are growing more vulnerable. Who knows what will happen? Brexit breaks the balance of forces in Europe. I believe the EU has to be prepared to defend the EU countries.” Do European leaders share her analysis? Will we ever have a European army?
To get a response, we put Irene’s comment to Paul Taylor, contributing editor at Politico, a former European affairs editor for Reuters, and senior fellow at Friends of Europe, where he has authored a series of reports on European defence issues. What would he say?
For another perspective, we put the same comment to Ulrike Franke, a policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), where her areas of focus include German and European security and defence, the future of warfare, and the impact of new technologies such as drones and artificial intelligence. How would she respond to Irene?
Yes, I think this analysis, overall, is shared [by many EU leaders]. We’ve seen, since 2014 and the annexation of Crimea by Russia, and everything that came afterwards with Brexit and the election of US President Donald Trump, that the global climate has become rougher for Europe. So, in response, there have been a lot of voices in the EU calling for a Europe able to do more on the geopolitical stage and defend itself militarily, and this is why we have these discussions about ‘European strategic autonomy’ and ‘European sovereignty’…
Does this lead necessarily to a European army? I don’t think it does, and I don’t think the majority of people in Brussels think it leads to the idea of a European army.
Next up, we had a comment come in from Kirstie, asking: “Who will ultimately be in charge of this European Army, who will decide which conflicts my loved ones will be deployed to fight in?”
How would Paul Taylor respond?
Finally, what would Ulrike Franke say to the same question?
This is the perfect question that Kirstie is asking, and it is the question that – to be honest – nobody quite has the answer to. The problem with the idea of a ‘European army’ is that is sounds quite concrete – it means soldiers and power and something very concrete, right? But it’s actually not very concrete at all, because it’s completely unclear what such a European army would look like in practice.
Some people, when they talk about a European army, seem to be suggesting something in addition to national armed forces. At this point, there are 27 EU Member States all with some kind of armed forces, and some people are talking about a European army as extra forces on top, commanded by some kind of EU body – it’s also very unclear what that would look like. The problem is that this would require more money than is already spent at the moment, and budgets are unlikely to grow these days, so that’s a hurdle. And who would command these forces? Would it be the European Parliament? The European Commission? The President of the European Commission? All of this seems very impractical.
Another option would be to have a European army replacing national armed forces. This is the idea that rather than having 27 national forces, which sounds very wasteful, we combine them into a single force. But this is an enormous endeavour. Just think about this: who would decide to send out these new European armed forces? I would argue that we would never be able to send them out because the 27 EU Members rarely agree on foreign policy, and even less often agree on military operations.
So, it seems to me that these armed forces would never be used. But maybe more importantly, it is the monopoly of the state to decide the deployment of military forces. Because, as was alluded to in Kirstie’s question, these are questions of life and death. So, I can’t imagine a situation where some countries in Europe would be in favour of doing a military operation and they would decide to send, among others, soldiers from another country that didn’t agree with the operation into harms way. So, this shows how tricky it would be to have this kind of combined force…
Is a European army ever going to happen? What would such an army look like in practice, and who would ultimately be in charge? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!