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Why Talk of a ‘Real European Army’ Now?

Some controversy met recent French President Macron’s statement about the need for the European Union to work towards a ‘real European army’ made in the context of the centennial of World War I.

President Donald Trump angrily tweeted after reports of that statement, considering it as ‘very insulting’ for including the United States along with Russia and China among the powers the EU should defend itself against. This was of course a misunderstanding that President Macron tried to dispel when meeting with his American counterpart, stressing that the French intention was only to contribute to the more balanced burden sharing between the US and NATO that Trump has been urging. In fact, it is true that, among the factors mentioned by some Europeans, including in Germany, for justifying an substantial increase in strategic autonomy for Europe are the policy shifts adopted by the Trump administration: the critical attitude towards NATO Allies, the withdrawal from the Iran Nuclear Deal followed by the threat of secondary sanctions against European companies that may aggravate the transatlantic trade war launched by Washington, the US pull-out from the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with Russia, which may lead to a new arms race in Europe, etc.

While EU Member States with a strong defence industry (France, Britain, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden) have been more competing among themselves than cooperating, they have gradually realized that they have made themselves increasingly dependent on export markets without having reduced the dependence of some on imports from the United States, hence their growing interest in more coordinated European defence R&D and production. This explains why the United States insists so much on the need for European Allies to increase their military spending, in the hope of boosting US arms exports to Europe. That being said, the goal of a ‘real European Army’ can only remain a long-term goal considering the current divisions among EU countries regarding the future of the Union, its priorities, the challenges it faces, and most of all, regarding defence and security, the priority given by some (Eastern Europe, Baltics) to NATO and the neutrality of others (Austria, Finland, Ireland, Malta, Sweden), reluctant to commit to common EU military operations. The EU already has developed some useful experience in crisis management by deploying external military or civil operations within its Common Security and Defence Policy, adjusting its instruments, such as the battlegroups, to the needs of such missions. And those operations have always been deployed in good coordination with NATO as well as the United Nations or regional African organisations. However, making progress towards more integrated military forces capable of ensuring more protective missions within the EU or outside its borders will require more political agreement and willingness to make such forces available to an EU Military Command distinct from NATO. The most likely option will consist in the existing Permanent Structured Cooperation on defence introduced by the Lisbon Treaty, which allows "those Member States whose military capabilities fulfil higher criteria and which have made more binding commitments to one another in this area with a view to the most demanding missions [to] establish permanent structured cooperation within the Union framework".

On this topic, see Marc Finaud’s interview to the Tehran Times.