The possibility has been discussed at a senior level of creating a European Union Defence Force. We question the underlying motive, asking whether defence is needed internally as well as externally. For the latter we argue that NATO is sufficient.
Some important features of nation states are still missing from the EU, including defence, police and intelligence. At present these remain divided in the hands of individual member states, with the exception of defence, which is broadly covered in Europe by NATO.
Despite the strong reservations of some member states, including the UK and Poland, it is clear that a key part of the federalist agenda is to fit the EU with these missing structures. Brexit reduces the risk of effective opposition to plans to set up a distinct EU defence force.
As is usual with EU discussions of topics that require but may not receive unanimous approval, progress is crab-wise. Last November the European Commission published plans for a European Defence Fund (we can assume that this means an EU defence fund), covering military R&D and joint procurement. By the time this item is posted the Commission is expected to have turned the plan into a legislative ‘proposal’. Given the democratic failings of the EU we can expect the proposal to be confirmed, by the Council and Parliament, as law.
NATO funding includes both R&D and procurement and covers Europe more widely, so the reasons for setting up a separate EU fund come down to the pursuit of the federal agenda. The new Fund will supplement the new military HQ, which is strongly opposed by Britain, and proposed battle groups.
To disguise the true agenda the proposals are for just a step in the direction of an independent EU army. We know this because the Commission’s representatives have taken the trouble to deny it, saying repeatedly that the proposal is not for an EU army or a European Commission army, that control would remain with the member states, and that “this is not about taking over any competence from the member states”. Such denials are consistent with the EU’s methodology of incremental integration by deceit. They rarely mention any potential overlap or inconsistency with NATO.
Federica Mogherini, head of foreign services for the EU, rather gave the game away when she said that the defence fund could broaden its scope in future. Although as currently proposed the defence fund is to be governed by all EU member states, that could change. She said that if a smaller group of willing EU sates wanted to bring forward the military HQ and the battle group ideas then such a group might also end up running the joint procurement fund. This has echoes of the ‘multi-speed’ solution for the eurozone and is intended to do so.
The UK, the Baltic countries and Poland have argued that an EU defence union would compete with NATO and infringe on national prerogatives. Such concerns do not bother the Commission, which has plans to implement all features of a federal government, whatever the opposition. This is, of course, one of the strongest arguments in favour of Brexit, although it would leave other members more vulnerable to the crab-wise shuffle into supra-national governance.
The Commission’s “reflection paper”, published on 7 June, has this: “The development of a new generation of many major defence systems is today beyond the reach of a single EU member state … ‘More Europe’ in defence and security is clearly needed.” This, of course, is a non sequitur; the premise does not support the conclusion but could as easily justify funding for NATO. ‘More Europe’ is the real premise, and conclusion.
Another non sequitur follows: “[the] nature of the trans-Atlantic relationship is evolving … more than ever, Europeans need to take greater responsibility for their own security”. It’s a wonder that we don’t see more challenges to these illogical leaps. There is little point in reporting the details of the proposals when the true justification – more Europe – is deliberately disguised behind a continuing if increasingly threadbare veil. As we quoted in a recent post, repeating untruths can be an effective way to get them believed and the European Commission has mastered this particular form of deception.
When the question of the formation of an EU army has been raised, Germany and Italy have been in favour (they are among the lowest spenders on defence), France and Poland have expressed scepticism (they are close to the agreed 2% of GDP target) and the UK has opposed such proposals (it consistently exceeds the target). There seems to be a clear correlation between actual defence spending and views on the formation of an EU military capability; the lower the national spend, the greater the enthusiasm for the EU budget to bear the cost. And taxpayers may not recognise that the EU is spending their money but giving them no say in how it is spent.
Germany, or at least Mrs Merkel, is coming to the view that the EU and NATO may no longer be able to rely on America, under President Trump, to cover the cost of defending Europe. Rather than spend to beef up Germany’s contribution, she would prefer to have the EU spend her taxpayers’ money, which makes the cost seem compulsory, unlike payments to NATO.
France on the other hand is keen for greater independence from America so their motivation is different but leads to the same conclusion. What neither leader addresses is the likelihood that no EU defence ‘capability’ will match NATO’s. Whatever the motives, the outcome will be another step in the EU’s progress towards a federal government.
Donald Trump is not a fan of NATO (nor of the EU) and has suggested that the USA may weaken its support, notably by not confirming Article 5, which promises that an attack on one member will be regarded – and responded to – as an attack on all members. One response to Trump’s tweets comes from Angela Merkel, who takes the opportunity to confirm her – and Germany’s – enthusiasm for ‘more Europe’ in defence matters: “Europeans have to take our destiny into our own hands“. She doesn’t say why, nor does she say, ‘as long as Germany doesn’t have to pay more for it’.
Recently the prime ministers of five Nordic countries met in Bergen and discussed, among other things, security and defence. Norway and Iceland are not members of the EU; Sweden and Finland are not members of NATO. Of the five only Denmark is a member of both. Unsurprisingly, Norway doesn’t want to support any EU action that overlaps or interferes with NATO, such as an EU army. Iceland has a special defence agreement with the US but no army of its own. Sweden wishes to maintain its non-aligned status, as does Finland; both have been threatened by Russia. Denmark has opted out formally from contributing to EU defence spending.
This sort of disparity is characteristic of the EU and makes nonsense of its frequent claims to unity. However, the disparity both exemplifies and explains why EU leaders, from Monet onwards, believe they cannot be honest in pushing their agenda. Crabs move more quickly but, like the EU, it may not be easy to spot where they are heading.