The idea is a non-starter in Europe as it would just present the union with another crop of power games and political crises.
In many ways, Joe Biden has beathed new life into an old idea in Brussels – but at the expense of the transatlantic alliance, which most believed he would embolden once taking office following the Trump years.
In fact, Biden’s selfish and entirely craven move to barely involve European Union NATO states in the process of scratching out a policy for withdrawal from Afghanistan has driven the EU farther away from Washington, even more than the Trump years.
On top of it, the AUKUS pact signed by Australia, the UK and the US sent Emmanuel Macron into a tailspin, leading to the floating of the notion that France could offer up its permanent seat on the UN Security Council to the European Union in exchange for the creation of an 'EU Army'.
EU countries were already vexed by Trump’s belligerent, blundering and loathing of Old Europe. Yet with Biden, they have to grapple with a man who is not only losing his mental edge, but also a US president who is faking his adoration and reverence for his European allies and doesn’t see the value of their role in world peace and fighting terrorism.
The EU has lost no time pondering whether they should sit tight for four years and hope for a smarter US president who actually walks the walk on the great transatlantic partnership. Individually, EU governments are just fed up with Biden and can’t bear the idea of more of him or a Trump-like replacement who considers EU members of NATO being cheap on whether it forks out the 2% of GDP on defence, or falls short. These governments have to actually explain to their voters why they might follow a US president into yet another failed intervention with no real end game which can be crunched into a press release or a tweet.
The worry for the EU is that some of these countries might go it alone and actually form an informal military coalition of EU countries who could decide for themselves which corner of the world they want to head to.
On the 15th of September the President of the European Commission herself spoke publicly about some sort of an EU army. She didn’t actually use the words “EU army” as she knows she is on thin ice getting full support from member states for a full-on EU army, with its own hierarchy, budget and objectives.
Yet, the EU army idea has been around for decades and it's often incongruously wheeled out by national leaders (Macron) who believe erroneously that taking more power and behaving like a superpower is the key to tackling the European Union’s identity crisis - not to mention its political one.
But there are just too many problems with an EU army: how to fund it? Who would run it? And who would ultimately control it?
In recent years the financing argument had been overcome by the notion that in fact, a coalition of EU armies wearing an armband and getting national governments to pay for operations would suffice. But then the EU itself in Brussels would probably have insecurity pangs as something that it doesn’t fund itself grows into a monster which it can no longer manipulate.
The bigger issue though is power. The EU commission itself and the federalists in Brussels who fervently back the whacky idea of an EU army have a real problem here. If the European Commission itself were to have a military directorate, then the ultimate power would remain with the Commission president and his or her country. Do member states want Ursula Van Der Leyen, a commission president who made a dog’s breakfast of an EU vaccine and presides over an executive in Brussels which can’t bail out countries hit hardest by Covid – throwing the lever on sending armed troops into a troubled state or, heaven forbid, Iraq or Syria? Of course not.
And so the second idea bandied about is that the military ‘wing’ within the EU is independent from the EU executive. But then who, or which country, takes the top general’s job at its pinnacle?
Most analysts point to Germany as the obvious country to lead it, as, the argument goes Germany controls just about everything in the EU anyway and pays into the budget the most.
In reality, few member states would support this idea. Furthermore, there is real resistance from many Germans themselves who feel really uncomfortable their government running an EU army – stirring unpalatable memories of the last time Germany ran an intercontinental military operation which ended with the Marshall Plan.
So, in short, this is why the idea of an EU army always runs into the buffers once it goes beyond the call-centre journalism which gives it a brief moment of glory.
But that doesn’t mean that an EU army is out of the question.
What’s in a name?
More likely is that the Biden Afghanistan stunt — and the AUKUS pact — will induce assiduous debate within the EU and Germany with the latter still being the boss of anything which calls itself an EU army.
Likely, Germany will decide on its own to send its army to hot spots and will be joined by a small group of other EU member states who have indicated that they will sign up to such a plan; probably Italy, Romania, Hungary and possibly Denmark.
To the chagrin of the federalists in Brussels, such an informal arrangement would entirely deflate the power grab idea of Brussels and make the EU institutions like the Commission, parliament and the powerful EU Council of Minister look redundant – which would only create a new layer to the present crisis.
The final idea, which also has some chance of being agreed on, is that EU countries could have their own ‘pillar’ within NATO and have a block voting power which would be appropriate, which might prevent the US from repeating an Afghanistan catastrophe.
And so, the idea that the EU itself will form an EU army is folly. But you can bank on the EU itself slapping a blue arm band on whatever informal coalition emerges from the ashes of EU-US relations. This 'special relationship' appears increasingly opaque and both Americans and Europeans realise that the Afghanistan defeat will change how they go to war alongside America forever.
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