Blog AnalysisEU Defense (Doctrine)

Mogherini would prepare a European army in great secrecy. Calm down!

There is indeed a functioning European HQ... in the United Kingdom. The headquarters of the EUNAVFOR Atalanta operation. Here Swedish Rear Admiral Jonas Wikström with Pakistani Navy Chief of Staff Muhammad Zakaullah (credit EUNAVFOR Atalanta)
There is indeed a functioning European HQ... in Northwood in the United Kingdom... the HQ of the EUNAVFOR Atalanta operation. And that's the whole paradox: there is no European HQ in Brussels. A lack. Here the Swedish Rear Admiral of Operation Atalanta Jonas Wikström receives the Chief of Staff of the Pakistani Navy Muhammad Zakaullah (credit EUNAVFOR Atalanta)

(BRUSSELS2) The future "Global Strategy" that Federica Mogherini's team is preparing should reinforce the plans for a European army to read The Times recently. According to my colleague, Bruno Waterfield, Brussels correspondent for the famous British daily:

EU army plans kept secret from voters

Federica Mogherini, head of foreign policy in the EU, has spent 18 months preparing a defense document for discussion by European leaders at a summit on June 28.

Steps towards creating a European army are being kept secret from British voters until the day after next month's referendum.

The plans, drawn up by the EU's foreign policy chief, foresee the development of new European military and operational structures, including a headquarters. They are supported by Germany and other countries as the first step towards an EU army.

Similar proposals were vetoed by Britain in 2011, although there are concerns that a loophole could allow nine states to group together and bypass opponents...

To read the title, the European Union would therefore prepare the ferment of a European army. All this in big secret of the citizens ". What is it in reality?

The European army is a European project prepared in Brussels?

Fake. Either I missed an episode in European integration. Either there is a slight exaggeration due to the atmosphere of the countryside across the Channel. I have been covering defense issues at European level for several years. And I'm not really sure that the Europeans committed this kind of audacity. In Brussels, it is generally forbidden to pronounce this word. A sort of swear word in European thought. And there is only Jean-Claude (Juncker) to, from time to time, bring out this word (see below). In the aftermath of the campaign, the headlines at The Times got a little fired up. Besides, when you read the body of the article (the whole article), it is much less eloquent than the title, even if there are one or two elements (widely suggested), to a whole series of information fact correct (2). Be that as it may, we must keep our feet on the ground and look reality in the face: there is no plan for a European army prepared in Brussels.

Is there any plan for EU autonomous action?

Yes. There is indeed the plan to indicate in the Strategy a certain ambition for the common European security and defense policy, to strengthen it with common capabilities, autonomous means of management — such as a European headquarters —, to have more adequate funding, etc. The terminology is not yet fixed. And precisely it is still under discussion in Brussels. The point "PSDC" being still a point " litigious as one country's ambassador recently told B2.

Is it a secret document?

Absolutely right. Our British colleague is right. There is a deliberately well-kept secret at the High Representative. Federica Mogherini took all her precautions, appointing one of her relatives, Nathalie Tocci, to lead this strategy. The objective was to prevent the "Global Strategy" from being " taken to task in the British referendum campaign confirmed to B2 several European diplomats.

The ambassadors of the 28 member states, to prepare for the meeting of foreign ministers at the beginning of May, had thus only been authorized to "read" the document (they had been deprived of a telephone or recorder). They couldn't take it with them. Everyone was only entitled to take two good leaves.

A tactic that has totally messed up... Keeping a document secret, which is communicated to several Member States, to certain advisers, over a period of several months, is a challenge in Brussels. When some have an interest in leaking it, it becomes a game. The secret directs attention more surely than an available document.

Is this new?

No. In Saint Malo, already, a certain Tony Blair, together with Jacques Chirac (in 1998!) said:

“the Union must have an autonomous capacity for action, supported by credible military forces, with the means to use them and being ready to do so in order to respond to international crises”

It was a long time ago. The time has passed. Wills have faded... But strengthening the CSDP (the common security and defense policy), having common capabilities, etc. is a leitmotif, repeated regularly, in the conclusions of the European Council or meetings of Defense Ministers. With more or less ambition. In recent years, it was rather the "less" than the "more" that dominated. Mogherini, faithful to his own political will, wants to give a little color to this dormant CSDP and provide it with a "real" headquarters.

Is a European HQ useful?

Yes. There is currently no such HQ in Brussels. With each operation, we are forced to set up a new operation headquarters, often with a loss of time or experience. From time to time, this question comes up. This project supported by the European Parliament and many countries has always come up against the hostility of the United Kingdom. The last time, in 2011, David Cameron had clearly brandished a veto (read: Alone against all, London blocks the idea of ​​a European HQ).

Can the idea of ​​an operational HQ in Brussels come into effect, simply because it is included in the Global Strategy? What is the value of this strategy?

Everything depends on the will of the Member States. Just because it's in the strategy doesn't mean it will come into effect and, contrary, it is not because an action or a project does not feature this strategy that it is not feasible (3). In the past, the Europeans have regularly shown their desire to strengthen their defence. And the British signed and even initiated these documents (even if they blocked others). So you have to be wary of this type of declaration, without a future. The "Global Strategy" is a simple "linear" of the political thought of the moment, of no more importance than the conclusion of a Council of Ministers or a European summit (4). If the idea of ​​a HQ were registered, it would however be a political signal which the High Representative of the EU could seize to begin the work of execution of this project.

Can the United Kingdom oppose this project?

Of course. Member States retain control over all decisions in this area. It is enough that one of them opposes it. And the project falls through. Unanimity is the rule in matters of defence... Unless you find a legal or political trick to circumvent the veto (read: A military HQ on the cheap, it's possible).

Would this HQ in Brussels be the central point of all the European commands?

Even if a headquarters is established in Brussels, there will always be the possibility for the 28 to choose another operation headquarters: in a Member State or by resorting to that of NATO. But if the British decide to leave the European Union, this project, for the moment hypothetical, has a very real chance of seeing the light of day. It's the paradox of the situation...

Is the HQ or the reinforcement of the CSDP the embryo of a European army?

No. We are far from it. There is talk of an autonomous crisis management capability allowing Brussels to have the possibility of “conducting” the military operations decided on at the level of the European Union and only within it. No question of doing territorial defence, of commanding NATO operations - which has its own command center - or of being the policeman of the world... and even less of interfering in the functioning of the armies national. It is, in fact, to conduct a few peacekeeping missions in Africa or elsewhere. In total, this could represent a few dozen (100 maximum) officers present in Brussels. We are far from the European army (and even from the number of officers in NATO).

Will the Heads of State and Government discuss it on June 28?

Not quite. It is expected that the "Global Strategy" will be approved by the 28 Heads of State and Government, during their summit at the end of June. But, lip service. " We discuss whether it will be “welcomed” or “endorsed”, “recognized” ” explained to B2 a European diplomat. But it won't really be discussed. It is a " document from the High Representative (Also read: A lunch for the EU Global Strategy). Now if the leaders want to take up the question, they can always discuss it. This is the very principle of these summits at 28.

But the idea developed in the team of Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, like Federica Mogherini, is not to make it a subject of discussion in itself. The result of the June 23 referendum will obviously give a different tone to the subject depending on whether Cameron is the big winner or the big loser. And the "Chefs" may have other fish to fry with the refugee and migrant crisis off Italy becoming a "real" problem...

Aren't there still other ideas for a European army?

Not in a concrete way. Of course, some people think, in the long term, that a European army would be a good thing, starting with Jean-Claude Juncker, the current President of the European Commission, and former Prime Minister of Luxembourg (nationality, in this kind of question , is not neutral). But we are rather looking at a horizon of 10 or 20 years.

An idea shared almost officially in Berlin, and in a few countries ready to “get on board”. In the armies of central Europe, we say to ourselves that faced with the erosion of budgets, almost unrecoverable today (read: Devote 2% of GDP to defense? How much will this new Grail cost?), you have to have a hard military core.

What would this hard European core consist of, who would it bring together?

It is more for certain countries (Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, but also the Czech Republic or Italy...) which have a fairly similar defense policy - little interventionist, engaging more in coalition actions (UN type , EU or NATO or even ad hoc), with a limited risk in the commitment, and strict parliamentary control, - to find methods of cooperation.

Assuming that there is a structured project - we are not there... -, in some capitals we are working rather, for the moment, on structural rapprochements with bi-national units, in maritime or land matters between Germans and Dutch (Lire: Ursula and Jeanine on a boat et German-Dutch maritime rapprochement), at sea and air level between Belgians and Dutch (Read : The Benelux will have joint aerial surveillance. Treaty signed. A first in Europe), in terms of training and the air zone between Czechs and Slovaks, etc.

Apart from the European HQ, what other projects in Brussels are interesting for European Defence?

Apart from the establishment of a European HQ, which is a very symbolic battle, several other projects are interesting to follow in Brussels: the future security mission in Libya (Read: The Europeans are considering a mission to support the Libyan police and justice), the restructuring of the organization chart of the crisis management tool at the European Diplomatic Service (abandoned for the moment), the establishment of security or terrorism attachés in the EU delegations, the future platform - form of support for CSDP civilian missions (read: A new instrument to facilitate the management of civilian CSDP missions), the preparatory action on research prepared by the European Commission as a prelude to a future defense research framework (read: European defense research out of investment), the new "security and development" instrument under discussion (CBSD), etc.

Nothing that foreshadows the European army in any way, but makes it possible to reinforce what the Europeans lack today: their ability to act together to strengthen their defense and stabilize their neighbourhood.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

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

On the European HQ:

(1) Officially translated as 'global strategy' and not 'global strategy'. Go figure...

(2) Bruno Waterfield, present for many years in Brussels, is a very good journalist (and moreover an excellent colleague) and knows the workings of Brussels well.

(3) Nobody had planned in 2003 - when drawing up the last strategy on EU security - to have a maritime operation against piracy. And yet, five years later, the European Union finds itself engaged in the Indian Ocean, far from its bases, in an action that remains a model today.

(4) Personally, I'm not a big fan of these strategic reflections which enthrall "all of Brussels", cloud the mind but are forgotten as soon as the pen is put down. Read : A strategy does not make spring!

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 “Mogherini would prepare a European army in great secrecy. Calm down!"

  • Jolyon Howorth

    (Letter to the Editor of The Times)
    “Talk of a “European army” (report, May 27) is misleading. As academic specialists in European foreign and security policy we wish to state that the likelihood of such a development, whether or not the UK remains in the EU, is vanishingly small. Although the member states have been trying to co-ordinate their national foreign policies since 1970, and their defense policies since 1999, they are more often criticized for their failures than for their ambitions in this field. The process of decision-making remains strictly intergovernmental, meaning that any state can opt out from, or indeed block, any common position which is proposed — let alone a development as spectacular as the creation of joint armed services.
    Co-operation between European states on security, whether counter-terrorism, migration or sanctions towards Russia, is desirable — and difficult. This is what the forthcoming EU strategy document is likely to focus on. Scares about a single army obscure the discussion we should be having about whether the UK would be better off in these areas by leaving the framework of European coordination. »
    Christopher Hill (professor of international relations, University of Cambridge); Prof Anne Deighton (Oxford); Prof Kenneth Dyson (Cardiff); Dr. Tom Dyson (Royal Holloway); Dr. Geoffrey Edwards (Cambridge); Dr Catherine Gegout (Nottingham); Prof. Mark Gilbert (Johns Hopkins); Prof. Jolyon Howorth (Yale); Prof Wyn Rees (Nottingham); Prof. Karen E. Smith (LSE); Prof Michael Smith (Warwick)


    For military action between several countries, there is only one effective solution: the framework nation.
    A European army, as long as there is no European “state”, therefore a single political decision will only be a waste of money and time.
    Let the politicians begin by organizing the level of political leadership, then we can talk about the military level.
    Because the “Juncker-style” project is first of all to start building the factory and buying machine tools “randomly” and then to say to yourself: but what could I manufacture?

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