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An army for Europe proposes Juncker: is it interesting, is it feasible?

British Army tanks on exercise in Poland (credit: MOD of UK)
British Army armored vehicles on maneuver in Poland (credit: MOD of UK, November 2014)

(BRUSSELS2) The President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude-Juncker brought up the idea of ​​the European army in an interview with the Sunday edition of the German daily The World

For Juncker, a question of credibility for Europe

For the President of the European Commission, “Such an army would help us build a common foreign and security policy and jointly assume Europe's responsibilities in the world ". It would be an intervention tool but also a deterrent. " With its own army, Europe could react credibly to a threat to peace in a Member State or in a neighboring EU country”. And that " would give Russia the impression that we intend to take seriously the defense of the values ​​of the European Union ", even if it would not be " use immediately ». The European army would not be competing with NATO ", it would serve above all " to strengthen Europe". It would also have an economic virtue. Intensive collaboration between European countries in the development and purchase of military equipment would allow " to achieve significant savings.

What do you think of this proposal?

How not to applaud with both hands at this observation. But it still has to be done...

Bottle overboard or real will

The creation of a European army is, in fact, a sea serpent which comes up regularly in the words of certain political leaders but which rarely translates into more concrete reflection. We can therefore objectively ask ourselves the question whether this position is just a "bottle in the sea" or reflects a "real will". This "exit" therefore has a virtue: to force us to think about the European future of the armed forces. And, it marks a shift among some leaders, believing that "soft power" was enough in itself to influence the course of the world. Faced with threats to European borders, we see that, without a "hard power" at its side, this role is reduced... An awareness that also exists in Germany. It is no coincidence that this trial balloon was launched in the country of Angela Merkel. The rapid reaction of the German Minister of Defense shows it. " Our future, as Europeans, will one day pass through a European army » declared Ursula von der Leyen, even if she specifies that it will not be « short term ».

A nice idea without more?

The lack of concrete follow-up is more worrying. It is high time that the proponents of European defense were not content with good words, but thought about concrete steps, the problems that arise and finally drew up a roadmap to achieve their ends. Because even, in the medium term, it is today that we should think about it. And that requires a political aggiornamento. Successfully creating an army - or a European corps - which fulfills the objective announced by President Juncker of "credibility" - presupposes that this army is really ready to intervene. Having a European corps, which will only have an ambition reduced to its own functioning, to go around the block, a few exercises and limited participation in operations that are already well established, would have the opposite effect to the effect research. Instead of deterring - or reassuring - European neighbours, it would arouse mockery or weariness. And, to really intervene outside, even in a modest way, or to defend their borders, the Europeans would then always need Uncle Sam or outside support.

Europe, a powerless force?

The real test of credibility is there. As long as Europe is obliged, in order to ensure the implementation of fairly modest military operations, to resort to external partners — Russia in Chad in 2008 (for 4 helicopters!), Georgia in the Central African Republic in 2014 (for a company!), Turkey in Bosnia and Herzegovina even today — it will not be credible. As long as it is not prepared to commit its forces, and therefore to suffer losses, in external stabilization operations, or to engage massively in "reinsurance" operations on its borders, Europe will be weak. This is the question that European leaders must tackle today.

Beautiful projects in the boxes

In 1999, at the Helsinki summit, Europeans, enthusiastic, decided to create a force of 50 to 60.000 ready to intervene, from 2003, in response to an international crisis (1). She never saw the light of day. This repeated objective, on paper, in what are called "headlines goals" was finally abandoned. A smaller force, with a very high degree of readiness (VHR) had been put in place: what are called battlegroups (or tactical groups). Declared operational in 2007, according to a rotation provided by the Member States, this rapid reaction force of the EU has never been able to be deployed. And nothing proves that it could be in the years to come. There are so many obstacles (political, financial, etc.).

Limited self-will

It is not only a question of means, techniques, or financing. There really is a problem of European infantilism. The implementation of so-called "reinsurance" measures for Eastern European countries in the face of new Russian behaviors, implemented at NATO in recent months, is a striking example of this: it took American impetus to "force" certain nations to mobilize. This political (and economic) incapacity, this reluctance to commit to the benefit of a neighbour, is a clearer signal in the eyes of the countries bordering the European Union of European "powerlessness" than the existence or the non-existence of an integrated European military structure.

A series of questions to solve

If we place ourselves in a less pessimistic hypothesis, the creation of such an army presupposes resolving first of all a series of highly political questions: Who finances this army? Who does she report to? Who triggers and who authorizes its use, its use inside or outside the borders? Who politically assumes the "deaths" or the "errors"? etc There will then be a series of "technical" problems to solve (problems which are also very political): How big will this army be? What will be its composition? What equipment will it have and who will pay? What will be his uniforms, his ranks, his circuit of command? What will be its rules of engagement?… As we can see, a vast project is under way if we want to implement this idea. A project that finds no beginning of an answer in the comments of political leaders today.

A few leads: start with a few first?

We can estimate that such a project could only be done by a few countries which share in common a certain political and military approach. Starting with the countries of central Europe - Benelux, Germany, Italy, Spain - faced with the same problems: falling military budgets and operating fields. British participation in such a project should not be sought; the United Kingdom sees "red" whenever we talk about political Europe. And has not participated in any notable European Union operation since ... 2004. France's participation is, in fact, a greater unknown. Would a European army without the two nuclear powers make sense? But the fundamentals of the French army – rapid decision, taken by the executive alone, without government decision and with weak parliamentary control, significant expeditionary influence – cannot be reproduced at European level. The spirit in Paris is not fiercely in favor of such a rapprochement, which would mean a singular loss of independence.

... with a European body, actually available

Rather than a European army, the objective could aim, from the start, to set up a "European corps" (2), equipped with all the necessary assets to intervene (air, naval, helicopters, medical support, intelligence, satellites , etc.), and permanently available, under a single command. It would be necessary to provide for priority fields of action, already defined rules of engagement, prior political and parliamentary authorizations, in order to avoid getting bogged down in overly conceptual notions which often have only one hidden objective: to block any . And above all, to mobilize and interest the various participating countries, it would be necessary to plan for potential areas of action but also operating savings (3)...

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)


(1) " Member States must be in a position, by 2003, to deploy within 60 days and sustain for at least one year military forces of up to 50 to 000 personnel, capable of carrying out all the missions from Petersberg stated the conclusions of the Helsinki Summit.

(2) The Strasbourg-based Eurocorps has a body in name only, it is for the moment just a force headquarters, largely underemployed.

(3) It is the success of EATC, the European transport aviation command, which has made it possible, on a fairly modest scale, to generate certain savings while ensuring greater availability of aircraft from each participating State (France , Benelux, Germany initially and now Spain and Italy).

Updated to 10.3 with some additional elements (especially on the Helsinki summit)

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).

2 thoughts on “An army for Europe proposes Juncker: is it interesting, is it feasible?"

  • On the EATC, I would like someone to explain to me clearly where the operating savings are. A dedicated staff has been created in Eindhoven to “manage” the seats in the hold of planes from a few States.
    Civil airlines are doing the same thing, without having created a structure, but by interconnecting their reservation networks that employees manage from their company headquarters.
    As for creating an army to “help have a common foreign policy” as Juncker says, shows the level of strategic incompetence of politicians. Let's start with having a foreign policy and a strategy and then define the means we need.

  • ping: Ultima Ratio » Blog Archiv » The Mirage of the European Army

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