Sunday

20th Aug 2017

Magazine

Ceci n'est pas une EU army

  • Eurocorps soldiers in front of the EU parliament in Strasbourg. "An 'EU army' is not our objective," said France, Germany, Italy, and Spain. (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

EU states in November agreed to create a new military headquarters inside Federica Mogherini’s foreign service and to make joint “battlegroups” ready for action. The European Commission also unveiled proposals for a joint military research and procurement fund.

The plan so far is a modest one.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now and get 40% off for an annual subscription. Sale ends soon.

  1. €90 per year. Use discount code EUOBS40%
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • A Nato drill. EU plans come amid a mounting sense of insecurity among Nato generals and the European public. (Photo: Nato)

The headquarters is to command only non-combat military missions, such as training missions. The battlegroups, forces of some 1,000 men made by coalitions of EU countries, are designed to be parachuted into action in Africa or in the Middle East to prevent conflicts.

The proposed fund would spend €500 million a year on research into areas such as robotics and satellites. It would spend €5 billion a year on buying items such as drones and helicopters, but these would be owned by individual member states.

The military plan comes amid a mounting sense of insecurity both among Nato generals and the European public.

Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, where it continues to wage war in the Donbas region, and in Syria, where it is bombing Western-backed rebels and civilians, prompted Nato to deploy a deterrent force of more than 5,000 men in the Baltic and Black Sea areas this year.

New urgency

Terrorist attacks in Belgium, Germany, and France over the past 12 months have also heightened tension in Europe.

The attacks by the Islamic State jihadist group led to a loss of trust in EU governments' abilities to protect their nationals and aggravated the debate on the refugee crisis.

Britain’s decision in June to leave the EU also spurred on the military project. The UK, the EU’s largest military power, had previously opposed it on grounds that it would compete with Nato.

The election of Donald Trump in the US added a sense of urgency. The president-elect said in his campaign that the US might not defend Nato allies and that he might make a deal with Russia on Ukraine over Europe’s head.

Potential superpower

Announcing the military scheme in November, Mogherini said she had lost count of how many times she had said the project was “not … an EU army”.

France, Germany, Italy, and Spain, the core group in the EU that wanted to press ahead, also said in a joint paper in October: “To be clear: an ‘EU army’ is not our objective”.

The words were meant to allay anti-federalist sentiment in EU states, but on other occasions the rhetoric was more strident.

Mogherini, in November, said the EU had the “potential of a superpower”. Italy has said the EU military headquarters and battlegroups should be the nucleus of a future “European Integrated Force”.

A French minister also said: “This is something that is very close to the Germans’ heart - they would like to create a European army”.

The semantics of what is taking shape in Brussels recalled the 20th century Belgian artist Rene Magritte, who painted a pipe with the caption "Ceci n’est pas une pipe,” meaning “This is not a pipe.”

The next step could be for France, Germany, Italy, and Spain to seek allies to trigger a clause on accelerated military cooperation in the EU’s Lisbon Treaty.

Upcoming steps could also include EU institutions leasing military assets, such as field hospitals or air-lift helicopters, from member states to be used in new EU medical and logistics headquarters.

'The best possible approach'

Germany's defence minister, Ursula von der Leyen, said military integration was as badly needed as EU freedom of movement in the Schengen zone in order to maintain European unity. France's finance minister, Michel Sapin, said a joint military was needed to restore faith in the euro and to pave the way for deeper monetary union.

However, it remains to be seen if the project will win back trust in EU governments and institutions, as France and Germany hope.

It also remains to be seen how the security environment will change after Trump takes power in January.

If Europe wants to make sure that the US keeps on protecting its old friends, the "not ... an EU army" project could be counterproductive, the UK warned.

“Instead of planning expensive new headquarters or dreaming of a European army, what Europe needs to do now is spend more on its own defence," the British defence minister, Michael Fallon, said in November, referring to the national military budgets of Nato allies. "That’s the best possible approach to the Trump presidency," he said.

This story was first published in EUobserver's Europe in Review 2016 magazine. You can download a free PDF version of the magazine here.

EU crafts defence plan in Trump's shadow

The EU aims to create a mini military HQ and to have joint rapid-reaction forces, but the UK says member states should react to Donald Trump’s victory by spending more on defence.

Magazine

Europe in Review 2016

EUobserver wishes you a new Europe! This year's Europe in Review edition looks back at all the events of 2016 that will define the coming year.

Magazine

Europe in Review 2016

EUobserver wishes you a new Europe! This year's Europe in Review edition looks back at all the events of 2016 that will define the coming year.

News in Brief

  1. Macedonia sacks top prosecutor over wiretap scandal
  2. ECB concerned stronger euro could derail economic recovery
  3. Mixed Irish reactions to post-Brexit border proposal
  4. European Union returns to 2 percent growth
  5. Russian power most feared in Europe
  6. Ireland continues to refuse €13 billion in back taxes from Apple
  7. UK unemployment lowest since 1975
  8. Europe facing 'explosive cocktail' in its backyard, report warns

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceDoes Genetics Explain Why So Few of Us Have an Ideal Cardiovascular Health?
  2. EU2017EEFuture-Themed Digital Painting Competition Welcomes Artists - Deadline 31 Aug
  3. ACCABusinesses Must Grip Ethics and Trust in the Digital Age
  4. European Jewish CongressEJC Welcomes European Court of Justice's Decision to Keep Hamas on Terror List
  5. UNICEFReport: Children on the Move From Africa Do Not First Aim to Go to Europe
  6. Centre Maurits CoppietersWe Need Democratic and Transparent Free Trade Agreements Says MEP Jordi Solé
  7. Counter BalanceOut for Summer, Ep. 2: EIB Promoting Development in Egypt - At What Cost?
  8. EU2017EELocal Leaders Push for Local and Regional Targets to Address Climate Change
  9. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceMore Women Than Men Have Died From Heart Disease in Past 30 Years
  10. European Jewish CongressJean-Marie Le Pen Faces Trial for Oven Comments About Jewish Singer
  11. ACCAAnnounces Belt & Road Research at Shanghai Conference
  12. ECPAFood Waste in the Field Can Double Without Crop Protection. #WithOrWithout #Pesticides

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EU2017EEEstonia Allocates €1 Million to Alleviate Migratory Pressure From Libya in Italy
  2. Dialogue PlatformFethullah Gulen's Message on the Anniversary of the Coup Attempt in Turkey
  3. Martens CentreWeeding Out Fake News: An Approach to Social Media Regulation
  4. European Jewish CongressEJC Concerned by Normalisation of Antisemitic Tropes in Hungary
  5. Counter BalanceOut for Summer Ep. 1: How the EIB Sweeps a Development Fiasco Under the Rug
  6. CESICESI to Participate in Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee on Postal Services
  7. ILGA-EuropeMalta Keeps on Rocking: Marriage Equality on Its Way
  8. European Friends of ArmeniaEuFoA Director and MEPs Comment on the Recent Conflict Escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh
  9. EU2017EEEstonian Presidency Kicks off Youth Programme With Coding Summer School
  10. EPSUEP Support for Corporate Tax Transparency Principle Unlikely to Pass Reality Check
  11. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament Improves the External Investment Plan but Significant Challenges Ahead
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersCloser Energy Co-Operation Keeps Nordic Region on Top in Green Energy