Federica Mogherini, the current High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission, has said a timetable setting out steps to create EU military structures, billed by some countries as the foundation of a «European army», will be announced in a few days.
«We have the political space today to do things that were not really doable in previous years», Ms. Mogherini told EU ambassadors on September 5.
A timetable for the plan will be discussed at a meeting of 27 EU leaders – excluding British PM Theresa May – at a summit in Bratislava on September 16. According to her, the plan to create a military structures able «to act autonomously» from NATO and the USA is the EU’s best chance to relaunch itself after Brexit.
London has always strongly opposed the idea. With the UK out, the European Commission, France, Germany, Italy and countries in Central Europe see new prospects for the project.
The military plan foresees countries such as France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Poland creating permanent military structures to act on behalf of the EU and for the deployment of the EU’s battle groups and 18 national battalions. It could also comprise an EU military planning and operations headquarters in Brussels that could be a rival to NATO.
The EU already has joint defence capabilities in the form of 1,500-strong battle groups, but they have not been tested in combat yet.
The drive to create a joint European army appears to be gaining momentum with the Czech Republic and Hungary both speaking out in favor of deeper defense ties on the continent in moves which are likely to rile NATO. «We should list the issue of security as a priority, and we should start setting up a common European army», Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban told a news conference after a meeting between Central European member states and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Warsaw on August 26.
Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka also called for discussion to start on the issue. He says it is a priority due to the need to secure Europe’s borders and respond to growing security threats from places such as the Middle East, adding, «we should also begin a discussion about creating a common European army». At the same time, Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo called for setting up a European border guard to protect the Union’s external borders. The Czech, Hungarian, Polish and Slovak leaders are coordinating their foreign policy within the framework of the Visegrad Group.
Chancellor Merkel supported the idea of increasing security across the bloc.
The concept of European military has also been backed by Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, a European leader pushing for more defence co-operation.
Last year European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called for a European Army. The proposal was supported in Germany, where Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen told Deutschlandfunk radio that a «European army is the future». Mr. Juncker will elaborate on the issue in his «State of the Union» address to the European Parliament in Strasbourg on September 14 – just two days before he presents his proposals to the leaders of the 27 remaining EU countries at a special post-Brexit summit in Bratislava. The European Commission President wants a unified command for EU military operations, common investment for military hardware, and standardized military equipment for all member states.
Under discussion is the establishment of «permanent structured co-operation» that would allow member states that wish to embark on military co-ordination to do so without being vetoed by objecting countries. The proposals include «joint civilian military planning and conduct capability» — code for a permanent operational headquarters for the day-to-day command of operations. This would provide central support to EU military missions, replacing the national headquarters on which the bloc currently relies.
The plan includes joint investment projects so national defence forces could develop major projects together, cutting costs. One suggestion is that such a scheme could be used to co-fund the development of air-to-air refuelling capacity for member states. Another suggestion is that participating member states would agree to binding EU targets for military coordination. The main defence and security measures are drawn from a paper developed by Federica Mogherini, EU foreign policy chief, and presented to European foreign ministers at informal talks on September 2-3 in Bratislava.
In July, the EU strategy document titled European Union Global Strategy stated that the bloc should look to create greater military autonomy from NATO.
«As Europeans we must take greater responsibility for our security. We must be ready and able to deter, respond to and protect ourselves against external threats», reads the paper prepared by the EU foreign policy chief.
NATO officials have expressed concerns that the proposals will create rivalry and challenge the alliance’s primacy as the main defence structure. An EU independent capability to carry out its own military operations will greatly weaken NATO and put an end to Europe’s dependence on the United States.
If the idea is endorsed on September 16, arrangements could allow Norway, a NATO member outside the EU, to contribute, while Sweden and Finland, EU members outside NATO, might find an EU alliance preferable to one that crosses the Atlantic. The European states got entangled in the military conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan due to solidarity with the United States, not because the European interests were involved.
These two examples alone are enough to give precedence to European, rather than transatlantic, security interests. Quite often these interests do not coincide. Previously, the EU military force was seriously mulled over was during the buildup to the illegal Anglo-American invasion of Iraq in 2003 when Germany, France, Belgium, and Luxembourg met to discuss it as an alternative to US-dominated NATO.
Today, the EU needs a joint border force to tackle the migrants’ crisis. This is an issue of paramount importance for Europe, unlike the plans to deploy NATO battalions in Eastern Europe and the Baltics to challenge Russia and, thus, undermine the European security. As Europeans, Russia and the EU have more common interests in the field of security, while the US has its own list of foreign policy priorities.
The Russian Federation and the European Union conducted joint operations in Chad and the Central African Republic and coordinated efforts fighting Somalian pirates. It brings to mind the statement made by Frederica Mogherini last year in Riga, Latvia, when she told reporters that the EU will pursue a realistic approach with Moscow and will not be pushed or pulled by anyone into a confrontational relationship with Russia.
The idea to create an EU military is being floated at the time the US is pushing Europe to do much more to strengthen its own security. President Obama has called the Europeans «free riders». Donald Trump, the GOP presidential candidate, has openly questioned the need for NATO. Anyway, the US government has stated that the «pivot» to Asia, not Europe, tops its foreign policy priorities list. It has other threats to fend off.
The goals may not coincide. Does it serve the interests of European states to get involved in the South China Sea conflict if the US meddles in? Absolutely not. In its turn, the US views the Europe’s migrants’ crisis as a far-flung problem that doesn’t affect its direct interests. It would prefer to see the money spent on European border guards to be allocated to NATO needs instead. Around 4.5 million refugees have fled the Syrian civil war. The US has taken in only around 3,000.
Under the circumstances, the transformation of NATO’s European arm into an EU defence structure is a logical step in the right direction. Only a European force – not an assortment of national armies operating under the auspices of US-led NATO – can really defend European interests. No matter what exactly decisions will be taken at the Bratislava meeting, the recent events leave no doubt that the European Union’s new defense strategy is a bid to increase inter-EU security cooperation, and strengthen the EU’s ability to achieve independence from the US-dominated NATO alliance. This is an indisputable fact to put in question the relevance of the North American Alliance. It also happens at the time Europe rejects the US-imposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
A trend is shaping with Europe gradually moving away from the reliance on the US to become more independent and able to set its own priorities.