In December 2017, 25 Member States of the European Union agreed to establish the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO). The possibility of greater military integration was already included in the Treaty of Lisbon, but it was never carried out, because of opposition from the UK.
PESCO requires the signatories a common effort through greater military expense, higher coordination and integration. However, the project devolves only 500 million euros to finance technological and scientific projects. Even if PESCO may represent a step forward in European military integration, it is still far from envisaging a common army.
Still, the real question is: does the EU actually need a Common Defense?
In order to provide an answer, it is first necessary to highlight how we ended up in the current situation. In fact, many attempts were made in the past to create a unique army for the Union and a common defense policy: each of them failed or proved to be ineffective.
Right after the World War II and the creation of NATO, the governments of France, Germany, Italy, Belgium and Netherlands envisaged to establish a European Defense Community. The explicit goal was to prevent further conflicts to explode in Europe. However, it failed to obtain ratification from France, at the time led by De Gaulle.
Much later, in 2002, the European General Staff project was never implemented due to opposition from the UK.
Once again, the military project envisaged in the charter of the European Constitution sank with the unsuccessful French and Dutch ratification.
Finally, in the last decade, there was another tentative step forward: the creation of an EU Battlegroup, a small military unit, designed to act promptly in a crisis situation. However, it was never really implemented.
EU Member States do not always agree on foreign affairs and defense policy. Actually, they never do. That is why it is so difficult to build a common body with a common strategy, able to make autonomous decision. However, our world is changing and it is becoming increasingly belligerent: Russia never abandoned its expansionist ambitions; the middle east is almost a powder keg and the spat between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump could have unforeseen consequences. Furthermore, we cannot rely on NATO anymore as Trump made it clear at the last G7 in Taormina.
We will never play a significant geopolitical role if we do not first succeed in establishing e European defense community, and we had better do it soon. If we had had a common defense since 2002, we could have played a significant role in many of the crisis that came about: cyberattacks on western armies; the invasion of Ukraine and Georgia by Russia; the Arab Spring and the rise of terrorism in the MENA region. The only reaction the EU was able to come up with during the Ukraine crisis was economic sanctions against Russia. Overall, they proved to be ineffective since they did not stop Russian aggressive attitudes, but rather small and medium-size European enterprises with export interests in Russia.
Another reason to establish a single army is to benefit from economies of scale. In fact, Europe’s military weakness and inefficiency is pretty evident. The twenty-eight EU member states spend together more than 250 billion euros per year in defense. The US spends around 560 billion. The most dramatic fact is that by spending half of the US budget, we cannot develop neither 15% of America’s military capability. That’s because we buy everything twenty-eight times over. The US can set up more military operations, faster, with fewer soldiers. The EU armies, with much more personnel, can run less than one-seventh the operations the US Army does. They have more modern and innovative weapons and equipment. Our equipment, especially that of Eastern countries, is stuck in the 1930s. Our investments in technology, research and development are way less consistent than USA’s. Furthermore, EU countries have way less possibilities to achieve big accomplishments because they do not share information each other.
It is time to recognize that we need our own military force. We must create a true European Defense Union. It is time that our soldiers wear the same uniform and operate under the same strategies and plans, not 28 different ones.
It could seem paradoxical, but without a credible military capability of this kind, it is often impossible to achieve diplomatic success and play a decisive role in conflict resolution. “Hard” power has often positive spill-overs on “soft” power”. Differently from what many self-proclaimed pacifists could think, only a credible force can bring peace and security. We need to build a safer and more prosperous world and prove global leadership as the European Union. If Russia threats Estonia and Lithuania, it also threats Portugal and Spain, because it threats our territorial integrity, our values and our free European society.
What could embody people’s sovereignty better than the defense of EU citizens and their freedom? A common defense can contribute to achieve sovereignty in the very meaning of the word, not sovereignty of nations, which are only dots on the map nowadays, often defined by geographic obstacles, historical events or postwar contracts, but the sovereignty of people, their freedom and values. Only a united Europe could ensure that.