Fresh Calls For Creation Of European Army
by Andrew Sparrow
The European Union needs its own army to help address the problem that it is not “taken entirely seriously” as an international force, the president of the European commission has said.
Jean-Claude Juncker said such a move would help the EU to persuade Russia that it was serious about defending its values in the face of the threat posed by Moscow.
However, his proposal was immediately rejected by the British government, which said that there was “no prospect” of the UK agreeing to the creation of an EU army.
“You would not create a European army to use it immediately,” Juncker told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper in Germany in an interview published on Sunday.
“But a common army among the Europeans would convey to Russia that we are serious about defending the values of the European Union.”
Juncker, who has been a longstanding advocate of an EU army, said getting member states to combine militarily would make spending more efficient and would encourage further European integration.
“Such an army would help us design a common foreign and security policy,” the former prime minister of Luxembourg said.
“Europe’s image has suffered dramatically and also in terms of foreign policy, we don’t seem to be taken entirely seriously.”
Juncker also said he did not want a new force to challenge the role of Nato. In Germany some political figures expressed support for Juncker’s idea, but in Britain the government insisted that the idea was unacceptable.
A UK government spokesman said: “Our position is crystal clear that defence is a national – not an EU – responsibility and that there is no prospect of that position changing and no prospect of a European army.”
In the past David Cameron, the British prime minister, has blocked moves to create EU-controlled military forces saying that, although defence cooperation between member states is desirable, “it isn’t right for the European Union to have capabilities, armies, air forces and all the rest of it”.
Geoffrey Van Orden, a Conservative MEP and a party spokesman on defence and security, said: “This relentless drive towards a European army must stop. For Eurocrats every crisis is seen as an opportunity to further the EU’s centralising objectives.
“However the EU’s defence ambitions are detrimental to our national interest, to Nato, and to the close alliances that Britain has with many countries outside the EU – not least the United States, Gulf allies, and many Commonwealth countries.”
Van Orden also accused Juncker of living in a “fantasy world”. “If our nations faced a serious security threat, who would we want to rely on – Nato or the EU? The question answers itself,” he said.
Labour said that it did not support a standing European army, navy or air force and that Nato was and should remain the cornerstone of Europe’s collective defence.
A Lib Dem spokesman said: “Having an EU army is not our position. We have never called for one.”
Mike Hookem, a defence spokesman for Ukip, said Juncker’s comments vindicated warnings that his party had been giving about the direction of EU policy for years. He pointed out that when Ukip’s leader, Nigel Farage, warned about the EU wanting its own army in his debate with Nick Clegg last year, the Lib Dem deputy prime minister dismissed this as a “dangerous fantasy”.
Hookem went on: “Ukip [has] been ridiculed for years and branded scaremongers for suggesting that the UK’s traditional parties were slowly relinquishing control of our defence and moving toward a European army. However, yet again, Ukip’s predictions have been proved correct.”
“A European army would be a tragedy for the UK. We have all seen the utter mess the EU has made of the eurozone economy, so how can we even think of trusting them with this island’s defence.”
He also claimed that having British soldiers serve as part of an EU army would leave Britain unable to defend Gibraltar from the Spanish or the Falkland Islands from the Argentinians. And it could see British troops dragged into military action in eastern Ukraine, he claimed.
Hookem said that Ukip, unlike the other parties, was firmly committed to spending 2% of GDP on defence and returning the armed forces to the size they were before the 2010 defence cuts.
But in Germany, Ursula von der Leyen, the defence minister, said in a statement that “our future as Europeans will one day be a European army”, although she added “not in the short term”. She said such a move would “strengthen Europe’s security” and “strengthen a European pillar in the transatlantic alliance”.
Norbert Röttgen, head of the German parliament’s foreign policy committee, said having an EU army was “a European vision whose time has come”.
A report by the Royal United Services Institute (Rusi), published on Monday, has warned that thousands more soldiers, sailors and airmen will face the axe in the next parliament regardless of which party wins the general election.
Rusi said it was inevitable that Britain’s defence spending would drop below the Nato target of 2% of GDP in the face of continuing austerity cuts and warned that up to 30,000 service personnel could go – with the army likely to bear the heaviest cuts – leaving the armed forces with a combined strength of just 115,000 by the end of the decade.
Even if defence spending is given the same level of protection being promised to health and schools, it said the forces are still likely to shed 15,000 personnel during the next parliament.