Fears of a seeming ever-present impending invasion by Russia, spurred on by Brexit and the election of Russia-friendly Donald Trump to the United States presidency, the European Union (E.U.) Parliament has voted to set up the framework for a European army — a defense union for the continent’s own security purposes. Although there are some that note that an actual European army is just a contingency that would only come about if NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) were to dissolve or become an inadequate actor in the security of Europe, the new plans do include structured cooperation, more military expenditure, and the establishment of a new E.U. military operational headquarters.
The Independent reported this week that the E.U. Parliament voted to create a defense union, part of which entailed producing a structured plan to allow for the facilitation of enhanced military operations between nations within the union, thus maximizing mobilization and international maneuverability and minimizing response times to act. In short, the plan would clear the red tape involved in moving military units from nation to nation within the E.U. Urmas Paet, former foreign minister of Estonia and current member of the E.U. Parliament, drafted the resolution that was passed Tuesday. He told the Independent the passage sent a clear message as to how Europe should provide for its common defense in the future.
“There are more and more risks to Europe related to terrorism, Russia, the Middle East and North and Central Africa,” he said. “[Currently] if there is some crisis emerging and you need to move military personnel and equipment from one European country to another, then it will take days or even weeks to get all the approvals. It is a very bureaucratic process and we all understand that when it is a crisis there is no time to wait for this kind of stuff.”
The plan for a European defense union was first broached by France and Germany in September, but it had received resistance by those who believe that that an E.U. defense force would threaten the solidarity of NATO.
Paet denies that this is so, and insists that a defense force would exist in cooperation with NATO and only strengthen the organization, a mutual defense alliance that includes 26 European nations and the United States and Canada.
“If NATO is there and functional, I don’t think so. If you have this ‘[European] army’ of 28 nations, there will be other problems. Cultural backgrounds and historical backgrounds and so on.”
Still, passing the measure, which is non-binding and must also be accepted by the European Council in December for it to be implemented, would make it simpler for the E.U. to mobilize an army of its own it the future, which is what Paet alluded to when he spoke of a present and functional NATO. Before the vote itself, proponent Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, pushed the idea of a standing E.U. army.
“We need it now,” he said, according to the Daily Star.
“The idea that the Americans will eternally see to European security is not true. Independent of the outcome of the U.S. election, the Americans will not see to Europe’s security forever. We have to do it ourselves.”
Juncker added, “And this is why we need a new approach to the European community of defense, including a European army.”
Paet’s allusion to NATO perhaps not being extant and Juncker’s mention of the outcome of the American presidential election was intentional, pointing to the campaign threat of then presidential candidate Donald Trump to look into the future involvement of the United States in NATO, which he says unfairly takes advantage of America’s wealth. He has floated considering restructuring the alliance if other member nations do not begin meeting the agreed-upon criteria for membership.
At present, the E.U. does have a rapid reaction military force called the E.U. Battle Group, according to the Daily Mail, but its deployment is contingent upon the unanimous agreement of all 28 E.U. member states. The Battle Group has never been used.
The new provision just passed by the Parliament also set aside 500 million euros annually for a joint defense research program that would start in 2021. It has been proposed that this could be employed to enhance the rapid reaction force to help create a European army.
[Featured Image by Andreas Rentz/Getty Images]