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Is the EU’s security at risk?

At the moment a common European Union’s army does not exist, as safety and defence matters are under the sole responsibility of member states. However, the EU has been trying to reinforce cooperation between member states in the field of security and defence through its agencies. Indeed, we have what we call the European Defence Agency (EDA), an agency focused on the promotion of a common European defence system.

The EDA, formed in 2004, is based in Brussels and reports to the Council of the EU. All 27 member states form part ofthe agency, with the sole exception of Denmark, as it holds opt-outs from European Union policies in relation to security and defence, as established under the Edinburgh Agreement of 1992. The EDA operates within the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy’s (CSDP) framework, which regulates the EU’s actions on defence and crisis management.

The European framework:

In order to better understand the functioning of the Common Security and Defence Policy, we should take into account Art.42 of the Treaty on the European Union (TEU), a founding treaty of EU law. Under title V on the « General provisions on the Union’s external action and specific provisions on the common foreign and security policy », Art.42(3) establishes the clause regarding member states’ ability to offer civilian and military forces to the EU. In fact, Art.42(3) TEU states that « Member States shall make civilian and military capabilities available to the Union for the implementation of the common security and defence po-licy, to contribute to the objectives defined by the Council. Those Member States which together establish multinational forces may also make them available to the common secu-rity and defence policy. »

Furthermore, another source of EU law is the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). Art.346 contains secrecy and armament exemptions. More precisely, it provides Member States with the ability to withhold information and to take measures considered necessary to protect national interests, without having to obey EU law. Art. 346(1b) TFEU states that « any Member State may take such measures as it considers necessary for the protection of the essential interests of its security which are connected with the production of or trade in arms, munitions and war material; such measures shall not adversely affect the conditions of competition in the internal market regarding products which are not intended for specifically military purposes. » Thus, matters regarding defence and security issues are extremely complex.

Within the EU two different kinds of military groups exist: the Eurocorps and the Battlegroup. The European Corps, or Eurocorps, is an intergovernmental military corps composed of approximately 1,000 soldiers, and is based in Strasbourg, France. The Eurocorps was established in May 1992, but it only became operational in 1995. The Eurocorps is not currently established at the same European level as the CSDP. Yet, the Eurocorps might contribute to the implementation of the CSDP if made available as a multinational force in accordance with Art.42(3) TEU. The European Corps depends upon the authority of the Common Committee representing the member states taking part in the corps. The Corps can be deployed by the Common Committee in accordance with requests emitted by multinational organizations such as the UN or NATO, as well as by member states. However, it remains only a possible operational military corps, without representing the EU's common army, as not all member states are involved. The Battlegroup (EU BG) is a military unit operating within the CSDP. The EU BG is formed by the contributions of some member states and has been developed for ad hoc missions undertaken by the EU. Again, not all EU’s member states are involved.

Claims on this topic:

The issue of establishing a stable and common EU army has become a relevant topic within national debates, as many politicians and experts have started making bold claims with regards to this issue.

Let’s consider Italy, for instance: the President of the Republic (Sergio Mattarella) recently claimed that an EU armywould be a necessity. This claim rose to the surface as an immediate response to the NATO’s withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan and the subsequent takeover of power by the Talibans. With this assertion, Matterlla expressed his concerns vis-à-vis the lack of European power, highlighting the distress caused by the withdrawal of NATO forces. In the absence of powerful allies, European action has shown to be greatly weakened. Furthermore, the Italian Army General, Claudio Graziano, who is also the Chairman of the European Union Military Committee, has insisted on the need to rapidly organise a united and centralised EU army, saying that « no crisis can be solved without military means ».

Considering the EU institutions' point of view, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has expressed her concerns about the lack of political will to intervene militarily in the absence of NATO forces. She has addressed the necessity of building a common military force and deploying it alongside the use of diplomacy to resolve conflict. Therefore, all these claims call upon a stronger common European action, able to face crisesindependently.

Denmark, instead, holds the opposite position. Danish prime minister Mette Frederiksen confronted President of France,Emanuel Macron on his proposal to build a EU military force by claiming that she is « against those who try to undermine transatlantic cooperation ». Frederiksen chose to lean on the European founding pillar of the rule of law, fighting against those who support harsher strategies when it comes to security and defence .

The main potential dangers to EU’s security:

In order to properly address this topic, we should also consider the possible threats to the EU’s security and defencesystem. As a matter of fact, understanding where the EU stands in the International System, helps us define the best means to keep the balance within the organisation.

Russia and China are the two superpowers representing the main threat to the EU. China is growing quite rapidly and it has started to represent an economic threat for the European Union’s market; it might possibly become a more complex geographical threat in the future as well. Indeed, it might shake the International System to its very core, just as it is currently happening due to tensions with Taiwan.

On the other hand, there is already a long history of conflicts along the borders of Russia with Eastern Europeanmember states.

Furthermore, we also have to thoroughly consider the possibility of other shifts in the international system’s balance which would have consequences also on current international agreements and organisations. This debate gained much attention during the presidency of former US President Trump who made changes to many international agreements.

In the long run, we might fear that the NATO’s safety umbrella might not always be in place as it is right now. This would challenge the security of Eastern European countries, for instance. These countries would not feel safe knowing that no EU army exists, and that the USA might not be there to protect them from Russian threats.

Critical issues and legitimate questions:

Considering the core value of the rule of law within the EU, is it appropriate to discuss the possibility of creating a unique EU army designed specifically for military action? As a matter of fact, it is necessary to consider the positioning of diplomacy with respect to the creation of a common EU army, in order to regulate not only their scope of action, but also their possible cooperation.

In addition, given that France is the only EU country equipped with a nuclear arsenal, what would happen if a common army was to be created? Would France ever renounce its military supremacy vis-à-vis the other EU member states? Or would it be desirable to share such military power amongst the nuclear-weapon states and the EU?

Furthermore, we should take the managing aspect of this possibility into consideration. A single and centralised army would be more efficient and less expensive, yet the establishment of its decision making body would entail complex arrangements.

Finally, we might also consider the issue of patriotism. National armies have always been more centred on their country of origin than the common good of the EU. How can we think of a Spanish soldier possibly going to war to secure Ukrainian borders? Is the development of a European conscience necessary for such an army to be efficient?The answer lies with the EU and its member states.


Author: Cecilia Brocca

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