Alphen, Netherlands. 25 August. Calls for a European Army are a bit like my school bus of old; it could normally and tediously be relied upon to turn up regularly, but never went anywhere interesting. Indeed, ever since I wrote my doctorate on the subject many years ago Groundhog Day calls for the creation of a ‘common’ European force have surfaced and re-surfaced every time pressure mounts for Europe to do more to defend itself. The problem is that no ‘common’ as opposed to a ‘collective’ force can exist without a European government, and unless the French have suddenly become fans of scrapping France in favour of ‘Europe’ that ain’t going to happen anytime soon. The latest calls emerged this week and, as is now traditional for Europe’s leaders, Brexit is to blame. I never cease to be amazed at the power of we British to be responsible for all of the EU’s woes these days, from the anaemic, for that read no economic growth in the Eurozone, to failure to develop a common asylum policy, to Europe’s inability to defend itself. Fool Britannia!
This week’s Franco-German-Italian meeting demonstrated all too clearly just how far Europeans are from creating a European government AND thus a European Army. Prime Minister Renzi wanted more ‘security’ i.e. help with the refugees flooding into Italy, but as a friend of Russia seemed little interested in defence. President Hollande, like all French presidents when in trouble, called for more Europe’ to ward off Eurosceptic challenges to his political left and right, but not too much more ‘Europe’. Like all French presidents of the Fifth Republic Hollande does not actually want more Europe if it means less France. Chancellor Merkel benignly (and it is benign folks) and deliberately confuses more ‘Europe’ with more ‘Germany’ as she desperately seeks to use the EU to separate much-needed German leadership from not-much-needed German history. The one thing that they could all agree upon is that we British are appalling.
Indeed, it was interesting to watch the body language of the three of them on the Italian aircraft-carrier Garibaldi, soon to be massively and mightily eclipsed by the first of the new ‘ours are far bigger than yours’ British Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft-carriers. This was the theatre of togetherness replete, complete and ‘deplete’ with symbolic adherence to the federalist thinking of Rossi and Spinelli and the 1941 manifesto for the creation of a federal European state in which none of them actually believes. Only Jean-Claude Juncker believes in such nonsense, as his comment this week about borders being the worst political invention ever attests. I assume Juncker means borders within Europe?
However, it is European defence again where all this ‘faux-Europe’ nonsense is really being played out. This week Bohuslav Sobotka, prime minister of the essentially Eurosceptic Czech Republic, called for the idea of a ‘common’ European Army to be put on the agenda of October’s post-Brexit EU summit, because unlike Renzi he really is worried about Russia. Put aside for the moment Sobotka’s now common confusion between a ‘common’ force and a ‘collective’ force. In a speech he also called for a ‘joint’ European force, which is different from a common and to some extent a collective force a la NATO. His argument appears to be that such are the security and defence challenges faced by Europeans be it from mass uncontrolled immigration, Russia or a combination of the two only a European ‘force’ could possibly help control unwanted movement within the EU, and even more unwanted movement into the EU.
Add ‘President Trump’ to that mix. Whether it be President Clinton or President Trump, but especially if it is President Trump, the days of Europeans free-riding on the Americans for their security and defence are soon to be over. Add to that equation the coming loss of Europe’s strongest military power from the EU’s Common (there they go again) Security and Defence Policy and a form of mild panic is setting in in some quarters.
The problem is that the EU can be either vaguely solvent or vaguely defended, but it cannot be vaguely both. The EU’s monetary and budgetary stability rules prevent the realisation of NATO’s Defence Investment Pledge. As I wrote in my big paper for the NATO Warsaw Summit “NATO: The Enduring Alliance: 2016” “Given that 18 EU member-states are…far beyond the 3% budget deficit to GDP ratio enshrined in EU law…if the next US administration demands that NATO Allies move towards the 2%/20% goals far more quickly than the ‘within a decade’ specified in the Wales Summit Declaration…NATO and EU members will likely find themselves trapped in a kind of political no-man’s land between German-demanded austerity, EU deficit to GDP laws, and American-driven demands for all NATO members to spend 2% GDP on defence”.
In reality, calls for a European Army are not driven by the strategic imperative to increase Europe’s military capability in the face of threats. Rather, they are a desperate attempt to find a way to increase defence investment without actually spending more money and thus breaking (again) EU rules. The idea is by ‘eradicating’ duplications and the inherent inefficiency of having 28, soon-to-be 27, separate national European military establishments money could be found at the cost of sovereignty. All well and good on paper, but does not work in the current reality is unlikely to work in future reality.
European defence is lost in-between Europe’s in-betweeners: between the EU and the member-states; between ‘common’ and ‘collective’; between strategy and politics; between the EU and NATO; between capability and capacity; between soft and hard power; between deficit, debt and defence; between the strictures of the European currency and the needs of European defence; and between Europe’s past, present, and politically-uncertain future.
At one level Merkel, Hollande and Renzi are right to recall Rossi and Spinelli; the EU cannot stay where it is right now and continue to function – it must either integrate more deeply or disintegrate ever so gently. And, it may be that once we pesky Brits are no longer sitting at the table in Brussels telling the rest of the EU a ‘common’ defence simply will not work without a European government, at least in President Putin’s lifetime, then Europeans will decide in time to handover the whole Kitten Caboodle of Europe’s defence to the EU. However, until then the whole debate on a European Army will be trapped between strategic reality and political pretence, and Europe will remain trapped between ISIS, Russia and a possible President Trump, and will thus be far more insecure than needs be.
Of course, the alternative for Europe’s national leaders is right between their eyes; spend more bloody money now on defence! Now, where’s that bus.