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An army by any other name.


THE SPECTRE OF an EU army has made an appearance during the referendum campaign, only to be dismissed as fantasy by the pro-EU lobby. It’s a fantasy, says the Guardian, for Eurosceptics, federalists and armchair generals.

This dismissal would have been more convincing if an EU Battlegroup had not been on manoeuvres on Salisbury Plain recently. Nor was it helped by the President of the EU Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, having called for the creation of such an army.

There are already a number of intergovernmental military collaborations under the aegis of the European Union, specifically within its Common Security and Defence Policy as set out in the Lisbon Treaty. It is true that at the moment they have the appearance of being piecemeal but there is no reason to believe that the EU will not integrate some or all of them into a single, unified military force as soon as it becomes possible.

Indeed, it would be naive to expect them not to. As a nascent state, it would be happier with its own armed forces under its own command rather than rely on the scattered cooperation of its individual members. And Article 42.7 of the Lisbon Treaty invites the suggestion, for it says:

If a Member State is the victim of armed aggression on its territory, the other Member States shall have towards it an obligation of aid and assistance by all the means in their power, in accordance with article 51 of the United Nations charter.

“By all means in their power” — as with so much of the EU’s legalism, this allows both a yay and a nay regarding military intervention — and the assumption of a single military force to carry it out.

Given that the EU is a duplicitous organisation that will break its own rules and codes at the drop of a lost referendum, and that it hides much of its intentions in plain sight (where journalists and the public never bother to look), what do we already know of the EU’s military ambitions and what can we draw from that?

There’s the EU Battlegroups, for a start. There are eighteen of them, each consisting of 1,500 troops plus support. They are under the direct control of the Council of the European Union. They are described as a rapid reaction force. All member states except Denmark contribute.  As yet none has seen action.

There’s Eufor, the European Union Force (formerly Eurofor), another rapid reaction force, which has been deployed in the Balkans and Africa. It is a part of the EU’s External Action Service (ie, its diplomatic service), reporting directly to the EU’s High Representative (a suitably Gilbert and Sullivan style title for a panjandrum) and is supervised by the European Union Military Staff (EUMS). EUMS have their own YouTube channel, by the way. And so does that much more enticingly named European External Action Service, which sounds a bit like a travel agency for eager young men (until you watch the videos).

And in the skies there’s the European Air Transport Command, (EATC), which has the job of optimising military air transport and the air-to-air refueling assets of its member states: Belgium, France, Germany, Spain, Netherlands, Italy and the Netherlands:

On 1st September 2010 a new chapter in the book of European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) was opened, as the EATC was inaugurated in Eindhoven, the Netherlands…The establishment of this new multinational command represents a significant step on the way to pooling and sharing national military assets.

“Pooling” and “sharing” — they like that kind of language in the EU. Especially when they’re in control.

At sea there’s the European Union Naval Force (EUNAVFOR), which has been patrolling the east coast of Africa to combat Somali pirates. Like Eufor it comes under the command of the European Union Military Staff and reports to the High Commissioner.

A couple of bodies appear to lie outside the EU in terms of governance but which obviously have an important connection with it.

There’s Eurocorps, consisting of a nucleus of 1,000 troops based in Strasbourg and backed up with another 5,000 troops from the Franco-German Brigade. They, too, are intended to aid NATO, the UN, the EU, etc, if required. Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg and Spain are the member nations, with others as associates (including Turkey). It has been active in Bosnia and Afghanistan. The public had a brief view of them when a detachment raised the EU flag at a ceremony outside the Strasbourg parliament in 2009.

Categorised as “intergovernmental”, it does not appear to be directly under EU control, although its insignia bear the twelve stars of the EU and one of its PR leaflets calls it as “A Force for the European Union and Nato”. The narrator in a promotional video described it as “the core of a future European army”, so I’ll leave it to you to decide.

One other organisation of a quasi-EU nature is the European Gendarmerie Force (Eurogendfor). This is a militarised police force available (as they all seem to be) for supporting outside organisations such as the UN and NATO. It is modelled on the French gendarmerie and is only open to states who have police forces with a military capability (although this may change).  With contributions from seven member states, it is based in Vicenza in Italy. When I tweeted about the organisation as a budding EU police force I received a reply from EGF Observer in rebuttal, saying “Eurogendfor is not a EU body and has no power to intervene on the soil of the EU”.

2blazonA note on EG’s Wikipedia entry says that the proposal for the force was put to the EU Defence Ministers in 2003 by the Italian Defence Minister, so I’m assuming that it has been created with the blessing of the EU, even if without direct support. I was also intrigued to note that when I first found out about the force a couple of years ago, its insignia clearly bore the twelve stars of the EU. Those are absent from the current insignia.

As far as I can see the complete absence of any clear declaration that such deployment is forbidden leaves the possibility very open.

As for not being able to deployed on the “soil of the EU” (a choice of phrase that says a great deal) I place no more trust in that statement than I would in anything else to do with the EU or any organisation vaguely connected with it. As far as I can see the complete absence of any clear declaration that such deployment is forbidden leaves the possibility very open. As Lord Pearson of Rannoch said in a debate about this, there’s no reason to suppose that this couldn’t be changed “at the flick of a switch”.

These and other, smaller, operational groupings co-exist and, it must be obvious, duplicate activities. They also place a financial burden on individual member states and deplete their commitments to their national defences and to NATO. It is probably these factors more than anything else that have slowed the process of creating an EU military.

The deniers say that the creation of a European army would require unanimous consent of member states and it is not going to happen. No one can say, however, that unanimity is not possible at some time in the future. I’m sure Mr Cameron’s assertions that he doesn’t want the UK to be part of an EU army is only based on his knowledge that he wouldn’t be able to get it past the British electorate. Otherwise he’d sign up to it like a shot (no pun intended).

Deniers are also disingenuous with regard to the EU’s usual strategy of engrenage, or gearing, when it comes to things it wants to happen but which it can’t do swiftly and easily. The existence of a number of military groupings is in itself a sign that the process is under way. And Juncker’s justification that we need an EU army “because we have to be credible when it comes to foreign policy”  (ie, Russia, mainly) is an example of engrenage: a crisis demands more European Union.

Finally there remains the definition of what an army would be. There’s no reason to assume that the EU couldn’t create a unified military force from a selection of member states with others staying out completely or occasionally working in cooperation. They’ve accepted (for the moment) a situation with the euro, for example, in which some members do not participate.

And what you call it is irrelevant. As one wag said, you can call it Dorothy but it’s still an army. The prospect of the EU managing to create its own military is worrying: not because of its capabilities (which certainly wouldn’t bother the Russians) but because of the incompetence and stifling bureaucracy that would typify it as an institution of this shambling racket. It’s a spectre hungrily searching for its own flesh.

suxcoverCurrente Calamo columnist, poet, writer and lecturer Michael Blackburn lives in Lincolnshire . From 2005–2008 he was the Royal Literary Fund fellow at the University of Lincoln where he now teaches English Literature and Creative Writing. His poetry has appeared in numerous publications and anthologies over the years, including Being Alive (Bloodaxe) and Something Happens, Sometimes Here (Five Leaves Press). His most recent collection is Spyglass Over The Lagoon. A selection of his Fortnightly Currente Calamo columns, Sucks To Your Revolution: Annoying The Politically Correct (US), is available as a Kindle ebook.

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Jolyon Howorth
Jolyon Howorth
6 years ago

Anybody who knows anything about European security and defence policy has known all this for years. Why don’t you just stick to poetry?

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