Friday

6th Dec 2019

EU takes step toward joint army

  • EU foreign and defence ministers in Brussels on Monday (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

The vast majority of EU states have agreed to create what some have called the nucleus of a joint army.

Twenty three out of 28 EU states signed the declaration in Brussels on Monday (13 November), prior to making a legally binding pledge at an EU summit next month.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 30-day free trial.

... or join as a group

Britain, Denmark, Ireland, Malta, and Portugal stayed out.

But some of them, such as Ireland, indicated they might join in time for the summit. Britain, which is leaving the EU, could also take part under special conditions.

EU foreign relations chief Federica Mogherini called the signing ceremony an "emotional moment".

She said that, from the point of view of her native Italy, the decision had "dismantled the ghosts of the past" and showed that "the taboo concerning EU defence could be broken".

She also said she hoped "this could be an inspiration for other areas of [EU] integration".

Sigmar Gabriel, the German foreign minister, called it "a milestone in European development".

Monday's defence accord is to see participating states jointly develop rapid reaction forces and new materiel such as tanks and drones. It will also see them create single European logistics and medical support hubs.

It involves binding national plans to increase defence spending and military R&D.

It will also be backed up by previous EU decisions to create a single hub for overseas military training missions and a €5.5 billion fund to help member states buy high-end weapons.

The military push, first envisaged by pro-EU politicians on continental Europe in the 1950s, was designed to show European unity in the face of Brexit.

It was also a reaction to an inward turn by the EU's main security ally, the US, under its new president Donald Trump and to heightened instability following Russia's invasion of Ukraine and a string of Islamist terrorist attacks.

The final shape of the project was less ambitious than some EU states, such as France and Italy, had called for.

But Italy had earlier said it would still mark "the initial nucleus of a future European integrated force".

The decision was taken because "the world was changing", Mogherini said.

"It comes at a time of significant tension," French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said.

The defence declaration comes despite previous concerns about the project by anti-federalist states such as the UK and Poland and by neutral countries such as Ireland.

The UK, which is one of the EU's only nuclear powers (along with France) and its top military spender, is to leave the bloc in early 2019.

But Monday's accord said "third states may exceptionally be invited" to join the EU military club, so long as they provided "substantial added value" and had no "decision powers".

Boris Johnson, the UK foreign minister, said Britain would "support" the scheme. "We are there, like a flying buttress to support the cathedral," he said.

Polish foreign minister Witold Waszczykowski said Poland might opt out in future if the EU "experiment" fell foul of Polish concerns.

He said it should not duplicate Nato and should not lead to Polish defence firms falling into foreign hands.

The Irish foreign minister, Simon Coveney, hinted that Ireland would join in December.

"This does not undermine in any way Irish neutrality", he said, noting that participation in specific projects, such as EU rapid reaction forces, would remain "voluntary" even if Ireland signed up.

Jens Stoltenberg, the Nato head, who attended Monday's EU meeting, said the project was "good for Europe and good for Nato" because it would lead to more spending on defence.

With 22 EU countries also being members of the transatlantic alliance, he said it would "strengthen the European pillar within Nato".

He added that any new EU "forces or capabilities" should "also be available" for use in Nato operations.

Italy lays out 'vision' of EU army

Italy has laid out plans for the creation of a “European force” that goes beyond Franco-German proposals on defence integration.

EU to spend €1.5bn a year on joint defence

The Commission has offered to put aside €1.5 billion a year for joint defence spending in what could be the first step toward the creation of an EU army.

France calls for EU 'army' to contain Russia

The EU needs a "real European army" to stand up to Russia, the French president has said. It must also fight populism at home by being less "ultra-liberal".

Opinion

The EU's half-hearted Ostpolitik

If, as the EU claims, the Eastern Partnership summit is not a format for conflict resolution, where else will the security issues that hold the region back be resolved?

Macron spars with US and Turkey over Nato

French president Emmanuel Macron clashed with US president Donald Trump and Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdogan over Nato, as the future of the alliance begins to fray following Ankara's invasion into north-east Syria in October.

Magazine

EU diplomacy 2.0

MEPs on the foreign affairs committee ought to be like second-tier EU diplomats on the Western Balkans and Russia, according to its German chairman, but foreign policy splits could bedevil its work.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  5. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture

Latest News

  1. Migrants paying to get detained in Libyan centres
  2. Searching for solidarity in EU asylum policy
  3. Will Michel lead on lobbying transparency at Council?
  4. Blood from stone: What did British PR firm do for Malta?
  5. EU Commission defends Eurobarometer methodology
  6. Timmermans warns on cost of inaction on climate
  7. Development to fuel change
  8. Does EU have role in stopping backsliding in Georgia?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  2. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  3. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us