Germany speaks out in favour of European army
By Honor Mahony
German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle has said Berlin supports the long term goal of creating a European army, which will bolster the EU's role as a global player.
Speaking on Saturday (6 February) at the Munich Security Conference, an annual gathering for high-level discussions on security and defence, Mr Westerwelle said the EU's new institutional rules, the Lisbon Treaty, are "not the end but, rather, the beginning for common security and defence policy."
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"The long term goal is the establishment of a European army under full parliamentary control," he said, noting that the German government "wants to advance along this path."
Mr Westerwelle, who is just a few months into the job as Germany's top diplomat as part of a ruling Christian Democrat and liberal coalition, suggested that moving further on common security and defence will be the "motor for greater European integration."
With a nod to Nato, the military alliance which competes with the EU in terms of overlapping members and available resources, he said: "This is not intended to replace other security structures. More Europe is not a strategy directed against anyone. No one has any reason to fear Europe, but everyone should be able to depend on Europe."
Under EU rules, member states with certain military capacities and the political will to move in this direction can club together to move forward on common defence.
In recent years, the need for an EU army has often been floated in political discussions - politicians in France, the UK and Poland have also spoken favourably of the idea.
However, until now it is has always come up against a mix of factors, including a lack of political will, a lack of real military power - except in France and the UK - the complexities of having several neutral member states, the overlap with Nato, and a reluctance to put money into defence coffers, this last compounded by the current economic crisis.
Acknowledging the effects of the economic crisis, Mr Westerwelle said member states keen on moving towards creating a common defence policy must "pool resources, set priorities and distribute responsibility - even in times of ever scarcer means."
Within the EU's 27 member states, France and the UK have the greatest defence means. Their co-operation and willingness is seen as essential for any possible development of EU military defence.
In a Strategic Defence Review published last week, Britain called for enhanced military action between itself and France.
"The return of France to Nato's integrated military structures offers an opportunity for even greater co-operation with a key partner across a range of defence activity," said the paper.
Analysts suggest that the pressure on defence budgets caused by the economic downturn may spur further defence sharing among EU member states.