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The ambiguous concept of the European Army: what are leaders trying to achieve?

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Following the Brexit vote in 2016, a precedent to trigger Article 50 was set by the UK. Arguably, why the UK was never part of the European Union the same way as the other member states, maintaining its own immigration system as well as simple geography, the long-term effects to the EU are undeniable.  With the Polish authorities pushing to follow in the footsteps of the UK by leaving the EU, it is becoming evident that the EU as an institution is lacking in enforcement mechanisms. 

As an effort to claim sovereignty back from member states Emmanuel Macron proposed the creation of a “true European army”. Why was France a leader in this initiative? It essentially lies in the fact that it is the only member of the EU to hold nuclear power, it is a way for Macron to remind the world of the pre-existing “french grandeur”. According to him, this project would be the only one able to protect the institution in light of an arms race stemming from China or Russia, the persistence of the Islamic terrorist threat, the Turkish conflict with Kurds, the Nord-Stream 2 agreement. Essentially, the biggest threat to the EU is the Chinese take-over of Taiwan, whereby the US would be busy mediating the territorial integrity and independence of Taiwan and enhance the US disengagement from EU business. 

It seems like the creation of an all European army is an effort to unify Europe, which could be seen as a more active effort in defence and security crises. According to Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European commission, an EU force would be part of the solution. Following the US’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, it has become evident that the bloc needed more ‘political will’ in crises, predominantly without a US-led NATO. 

However, while the prospect of having an all European army is in theory unifying, the EU at the core is an experimental federal state, whereby the system is designed to be closely related to a confederacy- the member states hold more power. This would therefore mean that states would not want to give up their sovereignty, and the sovereignty in question is military independence. Following a federalist model, Macron’s ‘European army’ prospects are ambiguous, whereby the system would be closely similar to the US, with one unified military as well as the member states retaining some control over their own military. 

Moreover, while the idea of having a unified European military has seen approval from both France and Germany, it has been inevitably met with huge scepticism. The hypothetical unification of an EU army would go against the already existing Security and Defence policy, entailing collective self-defence among member states. As advertised, the EU army is not a concept that would come into action immediately, its aim is somewhat defensive rather than offensive in nature. Its purpose is to convey to Russia that the EU is serious about defending its values internationally. Many other world leaders have shown support for this utopic plan of action, including Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Italy’s former PM Silvio Berlusconi, Czech President Milos Zeman and former Czech PM Bohuslav Sobotka. In order to survive as a union, the EU needs action over theory. In cases where the UN or NATO are not present, the EU should be able to step up. 

One of the main powers in opposition to creating a European Army has always been the UK. According to the UK authorities, defence is an international issue and therefore not the EU’s responsibility. The key argument is that an EU military would be an overreach of the bloc’s influence. However, following recent events of Brexit, the UK as the main opposition does not hold a seat at the table, and therefore the dispute in question is left in the hands of France and Germany.  

It is evident that while ideological differences reside when it comes to the issue of creation of the European Army, the proposed plan is one that is loved to be hated, and moreover, while it has seen substantial criticism from the authorities, the support from the public is unanimously positive.  74% of respondents in the Netherlands and Belgium supported the idea. In France and Germany, backing for the proposal stood at 65% and 55%. Overall, it is still unclear who gains the most out of the creation of a European Army, but logistically, the security measures it would provide to the bloc are undeniable. 

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