A European army is being considered by some EU officials as new security models gain traction.
The idea of a European army is no new thing. In fact, it had been floated in the 1950’s, but the model failed to materialize after squabbles killed the proposal.
Now, however, with the backing of high-ranking public officials like European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen, proposals for a continental coalition of Europe’s military forces are gaining steam.
Below is everything you need to know about a proposed European Army.
The most recent proposal for a European army is in response to perceived security threats
European powers who perceive Russia’s Ukrainian incursion and their amped up military presence as a threat have begun refocusing European military priorities as a response.
Juncker has cited a EU army as a tool for deterring potentially hostile situations like those experienced during the conflict in Ukraine.
The threat of ISIS and terrorism has also spurred interest in bolstering European security.
Budget cuts have left European security forces feeling less than adequate
Following the financial crisis in 2008, which heavily affected both the US and Europe, military spending in Europe has seen major cuts.
Both budget cuts to European militaries as well as major cuts to NATO forces have prompted talks of a European army. At the height of the Cold War there were over 400,000 US troops in Europe, now that number is just 67,000.
According to a report by the European Leadership Network, the biggest European military spenders – the UK and and Germany – were set to cut their military budgets in response to continental budget deficits in the EU.
Six other major EU member-states were expected to follow suit. However, recent terrorist activities in the EU have some leaders, such as France’s President Hollande, boosting military spending and vocally supporting the idea of an EU army.
While the European army has gained some popular support, other EU members aren’t so quick to join
Despite leaders in Germany and select members of the EU urging towards the formation of a European army, other major EU members – namely the UK – have flat-out rejected it.
An official UK spokesperson has said, “Our position is crystal clear that defence is a national, not an EU, responsibility…”
The issue became moot in 2016 when the UK voted to leave the EU.
The UK’s aversion (as well as Latvia and Poland’s) to the idea of a European army has centered mostly around a respect for national sovereignty, meaning ideologically, such countries view security as a national (not international) issue.
Russia has called the idea of a European army, “provocative.”
NATO and the US are also hesitant to condone the formation of a European army
NATO has said any plan to create a European army would be ineffective. NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg has warned that a European army would merely be a duplication of NATO.
Instead Stoltenberg has urged the EU to support existing military alliance NATO instead.
Other countries who aren’t included in NATO’s member states – like Finland – have argued that NATO is insufficient to protect Europe as a whole, since the 28 member states aren’t explicitly guarded by existing treaties.
NATO’s reservations stem from the possibility that a European army may undermine their own role in the region. Euro-skeptics– those who have doubts about the European Union- also have deep reservations about a collective EU army that might challenge traditional sovereignty models.