Saturday

15th Dec 2018

Opinion

Macron's 'European army': why is everyone talking about it?

  • French president Emmanuel Macron spoke about the need to create a "real European army" to handle the Russian threat and to emancipate Europe from its dependence on the US (Photo: Consilium)

Last week, on the Europe 1 radio station, French president Emmanuel Macron spoke about the need to create a "real European army" to handle the Russian threat and to emancipate Europe from its dependence on the US.

President Donald Trump considered the proposal "insulting" while president Vladimir Putin thought it was a "positive" development.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Has a new major strategic debate been launched?

Ever since the failure of the French project for a European Defence Community in 1954, the idea of a European army has seemed to be little more than an unrealistic dream.

Okay, from Macron to Orban?

The idea of a European army is now on everyone's lips.

Although it is generally invoked in a vague way, with no specific deadlines or objectives, the notion is regularly taken up by leaders from very different political sides.

In 2015, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker opened the debate by stating that the EU needed an army to handle Russia.

The Germans remembered on that occasion that the concept of such an army was part of their coalition programme.

More unexpectedly, conservative and Eurosceptic figures such as Czech president Milos Zeman and Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban have declared their support for the objective of a European army.

In the UK, the idea of a European army even came up as a short-term prospect during the Brexit campaign.

How can we explain this intense debate? Behind the slogans, the motives actually vary.

For the European Commission, for example, the goal has largely been to legitimise an incursion into the field of defence, which has long been the exclusive domain of member states.

That incursion started recently with the launch of the European Defence Fund.

For the German government, the goal was to demonstrate its commitment to European integration, from a political rather than a military perspective.

For the Czechs and Hungarians, it is more a question of pushing the EU to militarise its borders against migrants.

For British 'Leavers', mentioning the prospect of a European army was a way to scare voters away from the EU.

As for Macron, he is seeking to underline his European commitment a few months before EU elections, on which he is investing quite a bit.

Finally, the American and Russian presidents saw in this discussion the opportunity to remind everyone of Trump's distrust of alliances and of Putin's desire to dissociate Europe from the US.

The fact that leaders invoke the concept of a European army on a recurring basis is also the symptom of a strategic evolution.

Faced with the Russian threat in the east and the jihadist threat in the south, in a context in which the US seeks to reduce its military engagement and to focus on China, Europeans now realise that they need each other more than ever.

Defence integration faces a major obstacle, however.

While the eastern and northern states are primarily focussed on the Russian threat, southern European countries, including France, are looking more towards the Mediterranean and Africa.

Ukraine or Central African Republic?

This east-south dilemma has damaged the cohesion of the EU more than once, as in 2014 when eastern European countries invoked the Ukraine crisis to refuse to send troops to the EUFOR mission France requested in the Central African Republic.

A few recent examples, however, show that this geostrategic dilemma could potentially be overcome.

Few people commented on one key point in president Macron's statement: he did not justify the idea of a European army by the need to intervene in Africa, which would have been France's traditional approach.

Instead, he invoked the Russian threat, which we should read as a step towards including France's eastern and northern partners.

It should also be noted that the European Intervention Initiative, which France recently launched to anticipate and plan for future military operations, includes countries such as Estonia, and soon Finland – in other words, states that are not France's natural military partners and that are much more oriented towards the east than towards African missions.

In return, Estonia, for example, has clearly demonstrated a willingness to position its strategic culture closer to France's by sending troops to the Central African Republic and (most recently) to Mali, as part of Operation Barkhane.

While these initiatives have not created a European army, they have shown that it is possible to move towards increasingly shared experiences and threat perceptions among different European armies.

Experts often deem the concept of a European army to be unrealistic.

But political leaders will continue to use the notion, because it has one great advantage: it strikes citizens' imaginations.

Because of its symbolic and psychological significance, no one is indifferent to the idea, and it never fails to stimulate public debate.

Whatever option Europeans choose for the future of their defence, popular support will be a decisive factor in that decision.

Perhaps this is the true nature of the "European army". More than a dream, a slogan or a long-term horizon, this is an invitation to democratically debate the future of our security.

Pierre Haroche is a research fellow in European security at the Institute for Strategic Research (IRSEM) in Paris

Merkel calls for 'real, true' EU army

Angela Merkel's much-anticipated speech to the European Parliament was brief and to the point. Her message: Europe is alone in the world, the EU should be more united on defence, but not on the economy.

Lost in Brexit chaos - abortion rights in Northern Ireland

Labour MP Diana Johnson has brought a private members bill to Westminster that proposes to decriminalise abortion in the whole of the UK, which means that, if successfully passed, current provisions for Northern Ireland will also be repealed.

News in Brief

  1. EU leaders endorse creation of eurozone budget
  2. Selmayr has no comment on MEPs' call to resign
  3. May had 'robust' discussion with Juncker
  4. UK to continue talks on EU 'assurances'
  5. EU invests €20m in AI software for self-driving cars
  6. Belgian PM 'not optimistic', urges 'no deal' Brexit preparedness
  7. Romanian president expects no Brexit summit in January
  8. Swedish MPs reject Lofven to lead new government

Brexit, migration, cities - and the UN pact

It's not surprising that a handful of nationalist European governments – Hungary, Austria, the Czech Republic, Poland and Italy – have followed Trump's lead in rejecting the UN's migration pact, to be formally adopted in Marrakech next week.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General

Latest News

  1. No more Brexit talks, despite May's pleas
  2. EU leaders stuck on asylum reform
  3. Orban and other PMs spread fake news, says Juncker
  4. Fishing quota and no-deal Brexit preparation This WEEK
  5. Kosovo has right to own army, Germany and US say
  6. EU needs election-meddling stress tests
  7. Russian and US obstruction was 'insult' to climate scientists
  8. EU-27 unimpressed by May, offer little on Brexit

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  2. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  3. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  5. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  6. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  8. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  10. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us