The European Army - an evolution or an ambiguous concept?

With the European elections fast approaching, all kinds of topics get thrown around in political discourse to either entice the electorate or attract and bond potential member states behind a concrete idea. One such broad idea is the long-standing proposal of a united European Army - one that ensures Europe’s autonomy in its security, its operations and interventions on foreign ground and its strategic independence. Albeit being this noble idea, that, on paper, is all too altruistic and simple, its core and eventual realisation come with their respective pros and cons.

A poll conducted by Le Point magazine showed that 81% were in favour of a unified European Army. This came after Macron’s widely publicised radio interview, in which he calls for a “real European army” that protects and secures Europe and its citizens. His statements, later echoed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, started the snowball effect and riled up citizens across the old continent. Now, this concept is a major part of the goals of entire political parties in member states (ex: Rumen Cholakov, MEP candidate from Bulgaria). It is completely understandable why, as the establishment of such an army would consolidate national military powers and bring the people closer to a “United States of Europe” reality - the utopia of many bold pro-European leaders and political groups.

The pros

Having its own forces and crafting, expanding and fine-tuning its military might has many benefits for Europe. First of all, it would diminish its reliance on the globe-trotting military powerhouse that is the USA. Amidst the antics of Donald Trump and his positions on matters like NATO, the rise of China and its shady interference in the cyberspace of many countries and Russia’s constant geopolitical pressure, it is paramount that the EU can offer some actual protection to its citizens, without waiting on the US to “fix and glue everything up”.

Concrete measures have already been taken in this direction. The creation of the European Defence Fund, with its aim to coordinate and increase national investment in defence, has the goal of investing 13 billion euro between 2021 and 2027 in research and development of new ideas, technology and acquisition. Tangible incentives like this are a great way to bring this “larger than life” concept into practice and invite more sceptical member states to make actual investments into the project.

The recognition of a unified European army would be a natural evolution of the idea that has been around for 68 years now. Not only that, but it would make Europe capable and, potentially, a leader in the third branch it has left out too dry. Europe needs to be on the forefront, just like it is in its economic and trade policies.

However, with a large-scale and bold vision like this come a few misinterpretations to say the least. For some, this idea is just a weapon to rile up the electorate, as elections loom closer and closer. It is a concept that would sound relatable to a wide array of people and may be seen as an instrument for “hungry EU bureaucrats” to get the needed support and, thus, get elected into office. This is a dangerous talking point, as it could be extremely efficiently utilised by EU-sceptics and further propagate the rise of nationalist movements in member states, going against the project itself and weakening everything the EU has achieved up to this point.

The cons

The biggest problem that overshadows the existence of a European army is, in fact, its political complexity. A few pillars support this political mess and make the idea sound vague and overly ambitious.

Starting with the extreme hassle it would be to actually integrate it in the EU. For now, the European Union is still largely an economic bloc, not a federal country like the US, so integrating an army would need to overcome the mountains of institutionalization and bureaucracy that might emerge when dealing with such a new and specific matter at hand.

Then, once fully implemented and running, who would be in charge of its commitment to war or deployment in certain battles and areas? If it is decided that the decision must be unanimous, a lot of conflicts may spark up. Two countries might not agree that it is worth fighting in a given war.

Finally, despite initiatives already undertaken by the European Commission, financing would still be a major problem. Although an increase in military budget has been seen in almost every member state since 2015, Europe still falls short of the 2% defence-spending target in NATO. Essentially, a serious amount of cash would need to be raised in order to have any hopes of this army running somewhat coherently and smoothly. And that is no easy task in today’s tense political climate.

To sum up, without monumental political integration and restructuring, this idea of a whole European military power might fade into obscurity and collect dust in the rhetoric of politicians. To appropriately end this article, I leave you with a quote from Fabrice Pothier:

“For the first time in decades, a window exists for Europe to take care of its own defence. But for that to happen, European leaders will need to avoid the twin traps of over-institutionalisation and too little collective political engagement. Hard decisions lie ahead.”