Saturday, 15 December, 2018

Everyone is talking about a European army

15 Nov 2018, 00:09 ( 1 Month ago) | updated: 15 Nov 2018, 00:20 ( 1 Month ago)

DF-Xinhua Report Wang Zichen, Jeremy Allan Hawkins
Finnish Army. File Photo Xinhua.

Nobody knows exactly what a full-fledged European army looks like, but the talk of it has rocketed to the sky.

   Shortly after French and German leaders voiced support for a European army, a chief spokesperson of the European Commission, when asked by a reporter on Wednesday, wanted to make sure the credit for the idea go to his boss.

   "First let me clarify that the first one who has spoken on the EU army four years ago was someone called Jean-Claude Juncker. Memory (is) short nowadays in Brussels and capitals, but people here present, you are aware who launched the idea," said the chief spokesperson.

   "We are delighted that both the president of the French republic and the German chancellor, with a few days interval, publicly backed this idea," he added.

   That follows the Tuesday statement by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in an address to the European Parliament, that "one day, we should work on a vision to create a real, true European army."

   Merkel's words are viewed to echo those of French President Emmanuel Macron, who in an interview on radio called on the formation of "a true European army" last week, ahead of the weekend's centenary celebration of the end of the First World War in Paris. 

   BACKLASH AGAINST TRUMP

   United States President Donald Trump has lambasted the talk, but it is exactly the row with Trump that prompts increasing urgency for autonomy on the part of Europe.

   "President Macron of France has just suggested that Europe build its own military in order to protect itself from the U.S., China and Russia," Trump tweeted shortly after landing in Paris, "Very insulting, but perhaps Europe should first pay its fair share of NATO, which the U.S. subsidizes greatly!"

   Trump often complained that the U.S. paid for too much of NATO's defense funding, and he again touched on the subject after leaving Paris.

   "Emmanuel Macron suggests building its own army to protect Europe against the U.S., China and Russia," Trump tweeted on Tuesday, "But it was Germany in World Wars One & Two - How did that work out for France? They were starting to learn German in Paris before the U.S. came along. Pay for NATO or not!"

   It is in the wobbling trans-Atlantic relationship caused by words like these that Europeans have found the need to take greater responsibility for their defense, experts said.

   European common defence would be "to increase EU strategic autonomy" and "not to be dependent on a Trump-led White House," said Steven Blockmans, Senior Research Fellow and Head of the EU Foreign Policy Unit at the Center for European Policy Studies. 

   "America First has brought us the revival of the spirit of De Gaulle. More evidence of a post-American world," Richard N. Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote in a tweet. "America First" refers to a major theme in Trump's policy.

   "The days where we can unconditionally rely on others are gone," Merkel said on Tuesday. "That means that we Europeans should take our fate more into our own hands if we want to survive as a European community."

   Another angle has less to do with the U.S., as Merkel said on Tuesday that "Juncker some years ago already said a common European army would show the world that there will never again be war between European nations,"  

   PIPE DREAM?

   Despite all the talks about it, it's unclear what a European army or EU army would actually entail, perhaps because deep down Europeans know such a military force is still quite distant.

   Blockmans noted a European-level trend since 2017 for increased cooperation on defence and security, saying that "what they (Macron and Merkel) want to see is a defence capability and a forward-leading expeditionary capability at the disposal of the European Union, in a much leaner and meaner fashion than exists today."

   Their statements may have been intended as a signal to fellow European leaders, Blockmans told Xinhua, "it may have a sort of disciplining effect, saying we want to create a more efficient and effective European Union in the sphere of foreign affairs, security and defence, and if you object to this, what are you willing to offer in exchange?"

   What about a EU military force to replace national armies? A "pipedream" for European federalists, said Blockmans.

   But probably not for Guy Verhofstadt, former Prime Minister of Belgium and now a key member of the European Parliament, who wants to see "a new Europe, a truly sovereign Europe, able to protect its borders, able to protect its interests, is the next thing we need to do."

   "Twenty-eight different armies. It's a waste of money and at the same time it's also a danger for our collective security and that has to change in Europe. So, that's our project," Verhofstadt said in a speech which he tweeted on Tuesday.

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