JOOST – Will there ever be an EU army?

Will there ever be an EU army?Last weekend, Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, said in an interview with a German newspaper that the EU needs its own army because it would be the only way to convince Russia that the EU is serious about defending its interests and values in the face of the threat posed by Putin. It was not the first time the former prime minister of Luxembourg spoke out in favor of EU member states combining their military efforts.

On several previous occasions, Juncker has stressed that doing so would make defense spending more efficient and would encourage further European integration in the field of foreign and security policies.The reactions to Junckerand#39s call were mostly predictable and confirmed the controversial character of his remarks in parts of Europe.

British politicians across the board underlined that defense is a national responsibility and that separate EU forces would undermine the vital role NATO is still playing. Swedish and Finnish ministers said Junckerand#39s plans were both unrealistic and undesirable.

Independent analysts accused Juncker of provoking and grandstanding, knowing very well that his commission has only a limited role to play in defense matters. Interestingly, the reaction from the German government was very positive, with Ursula von der Leyen, the defense minister, saying that in the long run the EU should indeed have its own army.

Junckerand#39s remarks and the mixed reactions it triggered inside the EU could easily be dismissed as just another unproductive attempt to raise an issue that deeply divides Europe. According to the many skeptics, European military cooperation will therefore remain an interesting subject that is frequently tabled, but it will never lead to anything substantial.

I would not be so sure.One week before, Javier Solana, the former Secretary-General of NATO and EU High Representative for foreign and security policy, presented a report by a task force of the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), an independent and influential Brussels think tank.

The report contains concrete proposals to strengthen defense integration inside the EU and eventually establish a European Defense Union (EDU), similar to the monetary and energy unions that the EU already initiated in other fields.The authors of the report are no naive idealists flogging a dead horse.

They realize very well that in the past, similar calls were not effective because of andquotdifferences between member states in threat perceptions and strategic cultures, divergences in intentions and preferences and, in some cases, lack of mutual trust and solidarity.andrdquo All these obstacles are still there, and they will be hard to overcome.

But, as the report underlines, if not now, then when?The EU is surrounded by an arc of instability, ranging from Russiaand#39s aggressive foreign policy in the east to jihadi terrorist groups in the south. To that strategic vulnerability should be added the extremely inefficient way money is used on defense in Europe.

EU member states still spend more than 190 billion euros combined on keeping 28 national armies up and running. But as a result of low levels of interoperability, there is hardly any structural cooperation, while each of these armies has become less capable of deploying military force in areas just outside Europe.

The report calls on EU leaders to recognize these imminent dangers and agree on a higher level of ambition to create a more integrated framework for their defense cooperation. The authors reiterate four critical domains for the development of joint projects that were identified by the EU before: air-to-air refueling, surveillance drones, satellite communications and cyber defense.

On all these areas, those countries that are willing to join forces should not wait for consensus among EU member states, but get together now and do what is necessary to progress. That would mean gradually harmonizing their defense planning and spending and coordinating their defense industries, but also formulating a new security strategy and setting up a permanent military headquarter in Brussels.

Will the new threats in the east and the south push at least some EU member states to go the extra mile this time? Despite ongoing public support, and good financial and political arguments to step up cooperation, nobody knows for sure. But then again, if not now, then when.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman