A European Defense Union - Is It Viable?
In the future, the European Union wants to be able to credibly play a major foreign policy role. For this, own military abilities are indispensable. The essential aspects of the European Union’s security policy are a common foreign and defense policy, the protection of the EU’s external borders and the joint fight against international terrorism.For this security policy of the EU, there are currently numerous challenges: the conflict with the increasingly aggressive
Russia after the annexation of the Crimea and the hybrid war against Ukraine, the refugee crisis, the International terrorism with several attacks in EU Member States, the difficult relationship between the EU and NATO-member Turkey and the war in Syria.The most important challenge, however, is that a common foreign and defense policy must finally be formulated and adopted.And on this basis a European defense strategy is to be developed.
It is therefore very useful that the EU’s foreign and defense ministers want to develop the EU with a common security and defense policy into a truly effective European defense organization. A first visible signal at the recent meeting in Brussels was the baptism of a joint military command center of the Union for foreign operations abroad.
Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) is a long-term issue of the EU with very little success. As early as 1999, the Helsinki Headline Goal (HHG) asked for setting up the European Rapid Reaction Force (ERRF).In 2004 the idea of EU-battlegroups was developed. During the period 2005 to 2007, the first formations were reported to be ready for action and since then one or two of them have also been held on alert, without having been used to date.The regrettable “EU-battlegroups” are a largely unemployed force. This is only one serious example of the low success.
But obviously, the stronger American pressure on fair defense investments by the European NATO-partners has increased the willingness of the EU members to deal effectively and truly with a future-oriented defense and armaments cooperation. In addition, a concrete common security and defense policy is a promising undertaking to partially reunite the quarrelling Union with members who are willing to form and support a more deeply integrated core of EU-member-states. And one gains the impression that this time this attempt could be more than just symbolic politics
The new EU commanding capacity however, which has now been baptized, is a rather modest new beginning. Five military headquarters of EU member states will continue to be active. But a humble beginning is better than to hang on with illusions.Because in the foreseeable future, the EU, as a political community, is not in a position to take its security policy fate into its own hands, and therefore it will not be possible to achieve a proper “European Army” over the next ten years plus.
Firstly, other projects need to be pursued, such as the deepened co-operation with NATO, including the fight against cyber attacks, as well as the controversial project of a joint EU fund for European armaments projects. However, in all considerations of “more Europe through common defense”, the long time needed to ensure an own Europeans defense capability has to be taken into consideration, and that is why the deepened cooperation with NATO is of particular and utmost importance.
NATO is already making the right and balanced policy not only against our new “opponent” Russia. As a defense organization, NATO is structurally viable and is taken for granted as a partner in world politics. The EU would need to act as a real senior partner, and thus could – together with NATO – play a serious part in security matters of Europe and the world. Any costly “competition” with NATO because of complex double structures, overlapping competences and confusing chains of command, and any political diminution of the importance of the transatlantic alliance is detrimental to the current, not simple security-political situation of Europe.
This does not contradict the proper objective of realizing a European Defense Union. However, this goal will be achieved in the real world only in small realistic steps and in a more integrated EU through intensive cooperation between individual EU member states, which really want this cooperation.
Thus, a European Defense Union will only have a chance to be realized in a more deeply integrated and restructured “Core-European-Union” of the willing. Member states that on the other hand prefer simply an “Economic Union of National States” should cooperate on special agreements with the “Core-EU” as associated members.
On the actual EU-summit in Brussels the defense cooperation will be a major issue and might dominate the discussion about the future of the EU after the Brexit.