- Critics say that the creation of a European army, a long-held goal of European federalists, would entail an unprecedented transfer of sovereignty from European nation states to unelected bureaucrats in Brussels, the de facto capital of the EU.
- Others say that efforts to move forward on European defense integration show that European leaders have learned little from Brexit, and are determined to continue their quest to build a European superstate regardless of opposition from large segments of the European public.
- "Those of us who have always warned about Europe's defense ambitions have always been told not to worry… We're always told not to worry about the next integration and then it happens. We've been too often conned before and we must not be conned again." — Liam Fox, former British defense secretary.
- "[C]reation of EU defense 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." — Geoffrey Van Orden, UK Conservative Party defense spokesman.
European leaders are discussing "far-reaching proposals" to build a pan-European military, according to a French defense ministry document leaked to the German newspaper, the Süddeutsche Zeitung.
The efforts are part of plans to relaunch the European Union at celebrations in Rome next March marking the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, which established the European Community.
The document confirms rumors that European officials are rushing ahead with defense integration now that Britain — the leading military power in Europe — will be exiting the 28-member European Union.
British leaders have repeatedly blocked efforts to create a European army because of concerns that it would undermine the NATO alliance, the primary defense structure in Europe since 1949.
Proponents of European defense integration argue that it is needed to counter growing security threats and would save billions of euros in duplication between countries.
Critics say that the creation of a European army, a long-held goal (see Appendix below) of European federalists, would entail an unprecedented transfer of sovereignty from European nation states to unelected bureaucrats in Brussels, the de facto capital of the EU.
Others say that efforts to move forward on European defense integration show that European leaders have learned little from Brexit — the June 23 decision by British voters to leave the EU — and are determined to continue their quest to build a European superstate regardless of opposition from large segments of the European public.
The Süddeutsche Zeitung reported that it had obtained a copy of a six-page position paper, jointly written by French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and his German counterpart, Ursula von der Leyen. The document calls for the establishment of a "common and permanent" European military headquarters, as well as the creation of EU military structures, including an EU Logistics Command and an EU Medical Command.
The document calls on EU member states to integrate logistics and procurement, coordinate military R&D and synchronize policies in matters of financing and military planning. EU intelligence gathering would be improved through the use of European satellites; a common EU military academy would "promote a common esprit de corps."
According to the newspaper, the document will be distributed to European leaders at an informal summit in Bratislava, Slovakia, on September 16. France and Germany will ask the leaders of the other EU member states not only to approve the measures, but also to "discuss a fast implementation."
Specifically, France and Germany will for the first time activate Article 44 of the Lisbon Treaty (also known as the European Constitution). This clause allows certain EU member states "which are willing and have the necessary capability" to proceed with the "task" of defense integration, even if other EU member states disapprove.
According to Süddeutsche Zeitung:
"In the wake of the British referendum to leave the European Union, Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande have decided to demonstrate the EU's strength and to push the remaining member states to show more unity. Especially in defense policy, many projects were put on hold because Britain vetoed them. Without London, the two EU founding states, France and Germany, hope for swift decisions."
On September 8, Defense News reported that the creation of a European army was the central focus of an August 22 meeting between the leaders of France, Germany and Italy in Naples, where the three declared "the beginning of a new Europe." That meeting was followed by a meeting of defense ministers from the three countries in Paris on September 5.
According to Defense News, Italy is lobbying France and Germany to "back a plan for European tax breaks and financing for joint European defense procurement and development programs, as part of a bid to build a European army."
A confidential draft document circulated by Italy calls for "fiscal and financial incentives to support new EU cooperative programs for development and joint purchases of equipment and infrastructure supporting the EU's Common Security and Defense Policy."
In a September 8 interview with La Repubblica, the EU's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, called for the establishment of a permanent EU military headquarters in Brussels that would manage all current and future EU military operations. "This could become the nucleus around which a common European defense structure could be built," she said.
Mogherini insisted that "we are not talking about a European army but about European defense: something we can really do, concretely, starting now." She also stressed that EU defense policy would remain under the control of European governments rather than the European Commission, the powerful executive arm of the EU.
On September 7, however, The Times reported that Mogherini will present EU leaders attending the summit in Bratislava with a "road map" and a "timetable" for creating EU military structures, which are "the foundation of a European army." According to newspaper, her plans for military structures able "to act autonomously" from NATO have led to fears that "the EU is seeking to rival the transatlantic alliance."
The Times quoted Mogherini as saying she was taking advantage of the "political space" opened by the Brexit vote:
"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. We have the political space today to do things that were not really doable in previous years."
On May 27, the Sunday Times reported that steps towards creating a European army were being kept secret from British voters until the day after the June 23 referendum:
"In an effort to avoid derailing the Prime Minister's 'Remain' campaign, the policy plans will not be sent to national governments until the day after Britons vote. Until then, only a small group of EU political and security committee ambassadors, who must leave their electronic devices outside a sealed room, can read the proposal."
On June 28, just days after the British referendum, Mogherini presented European leaders attending an EU summit in Brussels with the "EU Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy." The document explicitly calls for European defense integration, and implicitly calls for the creation of a European army.
According to the document, the EU strategy "nurtures the ambition of strategic autonomy for the European Union." It adds: "Gradual synchronization and mutual adaptation of national defense planning cycles and capability development can enhance strategic convergence between member states."
In an interview with The Telegraph, Liam Fox, a former defense secretary who served under former Prime Minister David Cameron, said:
"Those of us who have always warned about Europe's defense ambitions have always been told not to worry, but step-by-step that ever closer union is becoming a reality. We cannot afford to be conned in this referendum as we were conned in 1975.
"The best way to protect ourselves is to stay close to the US. The US defense budget is bigger than the next 11 countries in the world put together. Europe's defense intentions are a dangerous fantasy and risk cutting us off from our closest and most powerful ally.
"We're always told not to worry about the next integration and then it happens. We've been too often conned before and we must not be conned again."
The Conservative Party's defense spokesman, Geoffrey Van Orden, said the implications of the EU's defense ambitions are worrying:
"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 defense integration as a key step on the road to a federal EU state.
"The US and indeed the UK are being misled if they imagine that such moves will enhance NATO — the key guarantor of our collective defense. On the contrary, creation of EU defense 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."
Mike Hookem, the defense spokesman of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), said his party had been warning about the dangers posed by the EU army concept for years:
"I'm pleased to see people are finally waking up. An EU army is not some Eurosceptic fantasy, there are many in Brussels hell-bent on making it happen."
Soldiers from the Eurocorps on parade in Strasbourg, France, on January 31, 2013. Eurocorps is an intergovernmental military unit of approximately 1,000 soldiers from Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg and Spain, stationed in Strasbourg. (Image: Claude Truong-Ngoc/Wikimedia Commons)
Select quotes regarding a European army
European federalists have been calling for the creation of a European army in one form or another since 1950. Although a European army is still a long way away from becoming reality, the ultimate goal of European federalists is full defense integration leading to a European military under supranational control.
Since the Lisbon Treaty, which forms the constitutional basis of the European Union, entered into force in December 2009, the political momentum toward European defense integration has picked up steam. The drive toward European defense integration has accelerated during the Obama administration, which has often appeared indifferent to Europe and transatlantic relations. Another important obstacle to European defense integration was removed when Britons voted in June 2016 to exit the European Union.
What follows is a collection of quotes from senior European officials regarding a European army and integrated defense.
September 9. The EU's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said:
"I believe a window of opportunity has been opened to give life to a European defense. I wanted to send the message that, despite the British exit, Europe can and must move forward with the process of integration. The prospect of Brexit offered an opportunity not to be slowed by the country that was always most determinedly opposed to the idea of pooling the instruments of defense."
August 26. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, a staunch critic of the EU's migration policies, said a joint European army was needed to keep migrants out. At a news conference after a meeting between Central European member states and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Warsaw, Orbán said: "We should list the issue of security as a priority, and we should start setting up a common European army."
August 22. Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka called for greater European military integration:
"Our experiences with the last migration wave have shown the importance of Europe's internal borders. In the face of uncontrolled mass migration, even states in the center of Europe have realized that internal borders must be better controlled. Aside from better coordinated foreign and security policy, I also believe that in the long term, we will be unable to do without a joint European army."
July 23. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said:
"The withdrawal of the British from the EU has led to a significant reduction in the continent's military strength, and from a military policy perspective we must not remain in this defenseless position… A European army must protect the continent from two sides, from the East and from the South, in terms of protecting against terrorism and migration. Europe cannot even continue to exist without an alliance — a joint EU army."
July 13. The German Defense Ministry released a white paper outlining the country's future defense and security policies. The document calls for steps leading to the creation of an EU army, such as the integration of military capabilities and defense industries. "We are aiming to establish a permanent European civil-military operational headquarters in the medium term," it says. The white paper also says that citizens of other EU countries could be allowed to serve in the German army. Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said:
"Britain has paralyzed the European Union on the issues of foreign and security policy. This cannot mean that the rest of Europe remain inactive, but rather we need to move forward on these big issues."
June 28. French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier released a joint document titled "A Strong Europe in a World of Uncertainties." It states:
"The security of EU member states is deeply interconnected, as these threats now affect the continent as a whole: any threat to one member state is also a threat to others. We therefore regard our security as one and indivisible. We consider the European Union and the European security order to be part of our core interests and will safeguard them in any circumstances.
"In this context, France and Germany recommit to a shared vision of Europe as a security union, based on solidarity and mutual assistance between member states in support of common security and defense policy. Providing security for Europe as well as contributing to peace and stability globally is at the heart of the European project.
"France and Germany will promote the EU as an independent and global actor able to leverage its unique array of expertise and tools, civilian and military, in order to defend and promote the interests of its citizens. France and Germany will promote integrated EU foreign and security policy bringing together all EU policy instruments.
"The EU should be able to plan and conduct civil and military operations more effectively, with the support of a permanent civil-military chain of command. The EU should be able to rely on employable high-readiness forces and provide common financing for its operations. Within the framework of the EU, member states willing to establish permanent structured cooperation in the field of defense or to push ahead to launch operations should be able to do so in a flexible manner. If needed, EU member states should consider establishing standing maritime forces or acquiring EU-owned capabilities in other key areas."
June 26. In an interview with Welt am Sonntag, the Chairman of the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, Elmar Brok, called for the immediate creation of a joint military headquarters and for the eventual establishment of an EU army:
"We need a common military headquarters and a coalition of the willing in accordance with the permanent structural cooperation of the EU Treaty. An EU army could eventually arise from such a group. This could help to strengthen the role of Europeans in the security and defense policy, together better fulfill the responsibility of Europe in the world and also to achieve more synergies in defense spending."
June 24. French President François Hollande said:
"Europe needs to be a sovereign power deciding its own future and promoting its model. France will therefore be leading efforts to ensure Europe focuses on the most important issues: the security and defense of our continent, to protect our borders and preserve peace in the face of threats."
May 29. British Armed Forces Minister Penny Mordaunt said: "A centrally controlled army would be a massive step to the EU's goal of full political integration, but it would be a very dangerous move."
February 4. German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen confirmed an agreement to integrate some 800 German soldiers into the Dutch navy. While in Amsterdam, where she met with the Dutch Defense Minister, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, von der Leyen called the plan a "prime example for the building of a European defense union."
December 15, 2015. The European Commission proposed creating a European Border and Coast Guard. The proposal, which was put forward in response to the ongoing European migrant crisis, called for a rapid reaction force of 1,500 officers who would be able to deploy even if a member state did not ask for its help.
October 15, 2015. The president of the European People's Party (EPP), Joseph Daul, said: "We are going to move towards an EU army much faster than people believe."
September 12, 2015. An unpublished position paper drawn up by Europe and Defence policy committees of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Party (CDU) was leaked to The Telegraph. The document sets out a detailed 10-point plan for military co-operation in Europe. It calls for "a permanent structured and coordinated cooperation of national armed forces in the medium term." It adds:
"In the long run, this process should according to the present German coalition agreement lead also to a European Army subject to Parliamentarian control.
"In the framework of NATO, a uniform European pillar will be more valuable and efficient for the USA than with the present rag-rug characterized by a lack of joint European planning, procurement, and interoperability."
June 15, 2015. Michel Barnier, Special Adviser on European Defence and Security Policy to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, wrote:
"Member States are slow to accept that they need to go beyond a model where defense is a matter of strict national sovereignty…. It is time for a reckoning: traditional methods of cooperation have reached their limits and proved insufficient. European defense needs a paradigm change in line with the exponential increase in global threats and the volatility of our neighborhood. The past has shown that European defense does move ahead if and when there is political will."
March 9, 2015. In an interview with Die Welt, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said the EU should establish its own army to show Russia it is serious about defending European values:
"Europe has lost a huge amount of respect. In foreign policy too, we are not taken seriously. A common European army would show the world that there will never again be war between EU countries. Such an army would help us to build a common foreign and security policy and allow Europe to meet its responsibilities in the world. With its own army, Europe could respond credibly to a threat to peace in a member country or in a neighboring country of the European Union."
"The long-term goal of a European army is a major policy objective and has been part of the Social Democratic Party's (SPD) party program for many years. Given the new risks and threats to peace in Europe we now need, as a first step, a rapid adaptation and updating of the common European security strategy."
March 8, 2015. In an interview with Deutschlandfunk radio, German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said:
"I think that the German army is ready, under certain circumstances, to be subordinated to the control of another nation. That is the goal, that in the European Union we step by step more firmly establish our cooperation, especially in security policy. This intertwining of armies with a view to having a European army is the future."
May 15, 2014. Jean-Claude Juncker, the European People's Party lead candidate for president of the next European Commission, wrote:
"I believe that we need to work on a stronger Europe when it comes to security and defense matters. Yes, Europe is chiefly a 'soft power.' But even the strongest soft powers cannot make do in the long run without at least some integrated defense capacities. The Treaty of Lisbon provides for the possibility, for those Member States who want to do so, to pool their defense capabilities in the form of a permanent structured cooperation."
December 19, 2013. The speaker of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, called for the creation of a European army: "If we wish to defend our values and interests, if we wish to maintain the security of our citizens, then a majority of MEPs consider that we need a headquarters for civil and military missions in Brussels and deployable troops."
November 15, 2009. In an interview with The Times, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said it is a "necessary objective to have a European army." He added:
"Every country duplicates its forces, each of us puts armored cars, men, tanks, planes, into Afghanistan. If there were a European army, Italy could send planes, France could send tanks, Britain could send armored cars, and in this way we would optimize the use of our resources. Perhaps we won't get there immediately, but that is the idea of a European army."
May 6, 2008. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier called for the establishment of the European army "as soon as possible." He said he had been in talks with his French counterpart to discuss "future structures" of a European army.
December 10-11, 1999. European officials meeting in Helsinki agreed to develop a European Rapid Reaction Force. Also known as the Helsinki Headline Goal, EU member states pledged that by 2003 they would be able to deploy a European military force of 60,000 troops within 60 days and for a period of potentially one year. This goal has never been met.
December 3-4, 1988. British Prime Minister Tony Blair and French President Jacques Chirac met at the French port city of Saint-Malo to discuss future EU defense integration. The summit declaration, which laid the political foundation for a common European defense policy, stated:
"The European Union needs to be in a position to play its full role on the international stage… The Union must have the capacity for autonomous action, backed up by credible military forces, the means to decide to use them, and a readiness to do so, in order to respond to international crises."
October 24, 1950. The Pleven Plan, named after French Prime Minister René Pleven, was the first plan to create a unified European army. It proposed the "immediate creation of a European army tied to the political institutions of a united Europe." It stated:
"A European army cannot be created simply by placing national military units side by side, since, in practice, this would merely mask a coalition of the old sort. Tasks that can be tackled only in common must be matched by common institutions. A united European army, made up of forces from the various European nations must, as far as possible, pool all of its human and material components under a single political and military European authority."
The Pleven Plan was rejected by the French Parliament because it infringed on France's national sovereignty.