European Defense Cooperation – State of Play and Thoughts on an EU Army

Written by | Friday, June 12th, 2015

Carmen-Cristina Cîrlig (The European Parliamentary Research Service)

In recent statements, the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has advocated for prospective creation of a common European army, seeing it as a long-term strategy to tackle the European defense predicament. These remarks have induced a wide discussion throughout the Member States and the expert community. According to Mr Juncker, a common European army can demonstrate the unity of EU countries to the world and it will also facilitate the formation of a common foreign and security policy.

Juncker’s reflection in the security area can also be seen in the current program of the Commission, which is focused on certain priorities, including the strengthening of the EU as a global actor. In this program, the principal priority is given to the ability to respond faster to military threats with the use of European networks and the establishment of a permanent and voluntary defense unit, comprising of the participating Member States. In addition, Juncker added to his team a new security advisor, Michel Barnier, who had – as a former Commissioner – gained great experience in defense and security matters.

From the Member States’ point of view, this concept is viewed skeptically. The states of Central and Eastern Europe have hitherto preferred the cooperation with NATO. But it has been the United Kingdom that has persistently presented the most radical position in that it has steadfastly refused these propositions and pointed primarily to national responsibility regarding defense and security. UK’s position stands in a stark contrast to Germany, which has supported – mainly via Angela Merkel and the Minister of Defense, Ursula von der Leyen – the idea of the creation of a common army in the long term.

The representatives of France have not yet made an official statement, though French analysts suggest that this idea does not have a substantial support. Austria’s attitude to this issue is not all too clear, which is mostly due to the country’s neutrality doctrine. The largest representative of Central and Eastern Europe, Poland, has supported the idea of a closer cooperation within NATO, viewing it as a guarantee of security in Europe. This opinion also is shared by the Baltic states, which are oriented towards NATO as well. A specific position is taken by Finland, who, though not a NATO member, closely cooperates with the organization. The Finnish representatives differ in their stances across different departments. The Finnish Minister of Foreign Affairs has evaluated the idea of a common European army as unreal, though, he supported the launch of a broader discussion in this area. On the other hand, the Finnish President as well as the Minister of Defense have both supported the vision of a common European army.

The next debate on the vision of a common European army will take place at the Council of the European Union meeting in June 2015 where further proposals in this area will likely be presented.

(The study can be downloaded here)

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