Blog AnalysisEU Defense (Doctrine)

What if the European army was a project for the future?

(B2) By talking so much about the European army, we should examine what this would impose. Let's not try to say that this idea is good or bad. Let's try to see what this would imply. Let's imagine for a moment a political consensus to create this army. Let's imagine pragmatic ways to implement it.

(credit: Portuguese Navy)

By evoking the project of a “real (or real) European army”, French President Emmanuel Macron on Europe1 last Friday (Faced with threats, Macron proposes a European army. An old or a young fantasy?) like German Chancellor Angela Merkel in front of the European Parliament on Tuesday (A (European) army would show the world that between (us) there would be no more war)) have revived an old project. None, however, was more precise in these speeches. Let's try to go further to draw the contours of this army.


What an army entails

An army supposes roughly a power (a political structure based on democratic legitimacy) and a legal basis, an organization (a political and military command) and a strategy. All of this is concretely lacking today at European level. And we start from zero or almost (1). But it is not unattainable as long as we take into account what is possible and not what is desirable, as long as we stop talking and start working.

An army to replace or complement

First of all, we must define the object and objective of this army: is it defensive of European territory exclusively? Or expeditionary, through participation in the external operations of the UN, the EU or NATO, or even multilateral? Does it complement national armies or replace them? As a first entry or as a second entry?

An army with an assigned task or future tasks

Then, if we want this project to have some chance of succeeding, we must take advantage of past experience, not project unattainable tasks. If we create a 'standby' force, we find the disadvantage of the Eurocorps, the Franco-German brigade, the battle groups of the EU as well as the NRF of NATO, of all these units present on paper for which we then struggle to find an operational outlet because the original consensus has vanished.

  • The defined operational tasks must be entrusted to this force upon its creation, even if it means subsequently assigning other tasks to it.

The organization and number of countries involved

It is also necessary to define the number of countries which would deliberately engage in such a structuring project for Europe, as well as the format of this army: its size, its organization (number of brigades, divisions), its components (land , air, sea…), etc. Finally, it is necessary to clarify the “dome” organization of this army. Is it within the European Union, or within NATO or in a separate, autonomous structure?

Let's try to answer a few questions

If we take the current data – those succinctly indicated by Emmanuel Macron, by Angela Merkel and other European leaders – this force should fulfill the most consensual, most acceptable tasks. It is therefore not a question of assigning it a task of maintaining external peace, which is often too linked to a history, a national external strategy, a national political organization (the consultation of Parliament for example during each operation). But we can consider entrusting it with the defense of European territory or the protection of Europeans, in addition to a national force.

A force for the defense of European territory...

It would thus be a question of marking the occasion, of being present on the territory, of reassuring the countries of Eastern Europe, of being capable of not calling on the Americans at every turn (2). This force could therefore have as its first task that of ensuring the forward presence in the East against Russia, or even of consolidating the borders in the North or South of Europe, at the request of a member country.

…and a European cyber army

It could also ensure certain functions such as the protection of Europeans in the event of a major risk (technological, natural or human), support for external or internal humanitarian operations, or the evacuation of Europeans residing in a foreign country becoming at risk. Finally, it could take new areas such as 'cyber defense' as a field of action.

  • A European cyber army would be a real asset both in terms of deterrence and as a driving force for this new force. As cyber units are being created in several European countries, creating a common element would be easier because we do not automatically intervene on uses inherited over time.

The Franco-German driving force

Such an army could only be made by the alliance of two or three large countries. Doing it with 27 or 28 countries amounts to immediately condemning the project. If military logic leans towards a Franco-British alliance, this army will quickly come up against London politics. The political logic would lean towards a Franco-German army, complex to implement, more limited in its ambition, but which would have one virtue: to be more solid and more durable and to be complementary to the Euro Zone.

  • This Franco-German alliance could be joined by countries more willing than others (Belgium, Denmark, Spain, Finland... but also Austria, Portugal, Czech Republic).

A limited size

Rather than defining large unattainable figures (such as the 60.000 men set at Helsinki), an army cut to 5-6000 men, or 7-8 battalions (roughly a brigade), could suffice initially (aiming for a division level). 10.000 men in a second phase). This size may seem minimal, but it seems sufficient given the various recent commitments. The French intervention force in the Sahel (Serval then Barkhane), the forward presence in Eastern Europe are of this size. This could be divided into 4-5 land units, and 1 cyber unit, as well as an air component (transport support unit and helicopter unit) and a marine component. A small permanent central staff of around 2-300 people may be sufficient.

Organized in national bricks

This arrangement of an army does not require merging all the corps down to the lowest level (section or company). Nothing prohibits having a national operation up to the battalion level for example, and having a multilateral operation above for the command.

  • This allows us not to have to resolve everything, as questions of internal organization, discipline, uniforms, harmonization of salaries and bonuses remain regulated by national rules.

A half-permanent, half-rotating system

In order to be more effective, the battalions provided to this European army could be organized in a mono-national, or bi-national (for countries used to working together) manner. They could be made available on a fixed basis or, in the form of periodic on-call, by rotation. But, to be effective, this rotation should not be all-out, it should concern the same units.

  • Their use could be sufficiently flexible and modular according to the needs, so as not to fall into the previous throes (seeing a force condemned to remain present).

An autonomous organization

This force would not be under the control of one of the existing structures (NATO, EU), but could fulfill tasks that they have defined, or accepted (on their initiative). The political command structure must remain separate from the two security structures (NATO and EU). But this army will be able to respond to missions decided by one or other of these institutions. Ideally, a headquarters could be located autonomously or within the European Union. But from a point of view acceptable to the Germans (like the British or any other country), it could be located within the NATO Shape in Mons. Which would have the advantage of preserving interoperability with NATO personnel.

  • One of the options could be to take as the hard core of this staff the Eurocorps based in Strasbourg and largely underemployed until now. The idea of ​​strengthening the EU general staff is a delicate option since it requires unanimity and faces clear hostility. Read : Improving the MPCC compromise

An independent budget

Its budget will be an important concept. If we want to avoid failure or the abyss of technocratic discussions on charges, we must plan from the outset a significant common budget, making it possible to finance the command structure, functioning, operations, intra-European travel. or outside Europe, or even hardship premiums.

A new legal framework

In any case, a new treaty will be necessary to define this set of rules (3). A Treaty which must not only be drafted and signed, but also ratified by the parliaments of the different countries concerned. A point that it is better to think seriously about, to avoid finding ourselves in the situation of several European treaties (CED, European Constitution, etc.) which are too ambitious or having 'drifted' from the acceptable objective, ended up being rejected .

Ideas to work on

All this... these are just a few ideas thrown down on a paper. We can imagine other solutions. And there remains a whole series of questions to be resolved (notably the chain of command). They illustrate both the difficulty and the scale of the task, but also that this project is within reach. We simply need to have the political will, simultaneously, and shared and not just the desire to make a good word, just good enough to make all those who believe that the European project is out of date chatter in the cottages and chuckle with laughter.

  • We must not sink into 'desirable' projects but start from existing difficulties, to set up a 'reasonable' project in the near future (2024-2025). Or, keep quiet, and stop talking about a European army...

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

  1. Read our analysis: What Defense Europe is. What she is not
  2. If Donald Trump serves a second term (which is not excluded), this gives the American leader until 2024 to reshape his foreign policy. As for Russia, if a 'softer' change is always possible, we do not see why Vladimir Putin would stop a policy of Russian reintroduction into the world curriculum, when he is on the verge of gaining notable points.
  3. Of course there is a possibility, existing within the EU Treaty, of moving to a common defense policy. But this does not automatically mean a European army (even if that underpins it enormously in the minds of its designers). And, above all, this requires a consensus decision with all member states. Suffice to say that we must forget.

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).