European Elections Special

Dual force

Europe future is a European one. But even if the final goal of European defense is a European army, another strategy – for now – seems more realistic.

There is a long path to walk until the vision of a European army can materialize and genuine European troops can actually help to secure international peace. While the member states of the EU have managed to deeply integrate their economies, European security remains largely neglected – even though it is obvious that the single member states are too small and militarily too weak to effectively engage in international conflicts.

Common problems should be solved together. However, the creation of a European army would diminish the nation states’ sovereignty and therefore remains a measure without consent.

In principle, the member states are content to perform joint missions to guarantee or create peace and stability. This is why the German Federal Forces take part in the European training mission EUTM and the UN-led support mission MINUSMA. And as Chancellor Angela Merkel noted already in 2007: “We must get closer to the formation of a European army.” Similarly, speaking at the last security conference in Munich, Federal Minister of Defense Ursula von der Leyen was impressed by the cooperation of the 50 states during the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission in Afghanistan and asked: “Why should it not be possible to apply this practical experience to the strategic and political level?”

A plethora of advantages

But such cooperation has downsides too. In terms of security policy, the 28 European member states indeed have different beliefs. When the EU agreed on the Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) in 1999, it was important to several member states to highlight their displeasure at the potential creation of a supranational force. With Finland, Ireland, Austria and Sweden, four militarily neutral states are associated with the EU.

Cyprus and Malta claim special statuses and Denmark, as the result of a referendum, does not support any form of joint CSDP actions. In addition, the relatively long decision-making progress complicates matters. After all, the members of the EU are even more heterogeneous than those of NATOs.

There are many obvious advantages, though. First of all, cooperation would result in much more effective acquisition and distribution of materials and know-how. Europe could save billions. This money could be used to foster the invention of new innovative technologies and better equipment. Such a European army should also play a part in creating a common European identity – a fact we should acknowledge these days.

Pooling and sharing

The past proved that missions like the ones in Kosovo and Afghanistan are possible when a crisis becomes urgent, even if there are various national reservations and strategic disagreements. This is why the German federal government supports the model of pooling and sharing. This type of cooperation also comes as an aftermath of the financial crisis: in recent years, defense budgets declined all across Europe. So in 2010 the member states decided to pool and share, aiming to save money as well as be more efficient.

First steps

Pooling means national capabilities are being offered to others by installing a multinational structure that combines them and coordinates their usage. For example, pooling can be used to develop, acquire and operate machinery. This has already been done with the Airborne Early Warning and Control Systems (AWACS).

Sharing means one or more countries provide their partners with existing capabilities and machinery (e.g. transport planes) or fulfill tasks for their partners. By doing so, all partners save resources, because they do not need to provide all capabilities themselves. Such a concept needs detailed arrangements; otherwise member states might accidentally conserve or acquire the same capabilities. This coordinative effort would push Europe quite a few steps ahead on the path to a European army.

Still, first of all we need the willpower – at least by smaller member state groups – to integrate security policies. This includes a precise distribution of responsibilities by the partners.

A realistic perspective

A real European army can only become true when the political basis for its establishment has been profoundly reformed. It can exist in the absence of neither a common foreign policy nor a shared defense budget. As mentioned before, one key aspect of the army would be its status as a parliamentary army; the forces must be commanded by the European Parliament and a Europe-wide government with corresponding competencies. Today, such a vision seems far from realistic.

A realistic perspective could be another arrangement: besides a European army, national armies could remain operative. That way the bigger European states could keep some of their military sovereignty. To develop such a dual concept is indeed a sophisticated task – still, the EU member states should work on it strongly in the coming decades.

Translation from German.

Read more in this debate: Ana Gomes, Alistair Shepherd.


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From the debate

Towards a European Army

If you want peace, prepare for war


There is one simple truth: Maintaining peace and security in Europe requires preparedness to defend it at home and abroad. But to discuss the European army can be counterproductive.

by Ana Gomes

The changing tone


What might have been started at the Munich conference is a strategic debate on a reinvigorated role for both Germany and the EU in international security.

by Alistair Shepherd

Mehr zum Thema


If you want peace, prepare for war

There is one simple truth: Maintaining peace and security in Europe requires preparedness to defend it at home and abroad. But to discuss the European army can be counterproductive.

by Ana Gomes

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