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European common army: What is defence in Europe?

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“Strategic compass”, this is EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy Josep Borell’s metaphor referring to the proposal for a new communitarian approach concerning the frontier’s defence: five thousands soldiers to be deployed as “rapid response force” in cross-border crisis scenarios.

Where it all began

The idea of a European common army was first discussed in 1950 by the “Inner Six”, with the aim of protecting Europe from the Soviet threat without nationally rearming Germany five years after World War II. The Treaty of the European Defence community was signed in 1952, but the reliance on NATO during the Cold War implied compliance with the development of European Cooperation.

The idea gained popularity after the World Trade Center attack in 2001 and then in peacekeeping in the Western Balkans.

Nowadays, the Western rollback in Afghanistan last summer paved the way for the “strategic compass” project, which turned out to be one of the main discussed topics during the Ukrainian war.

The 2007 Treaty of Lisbon only defined a framework for a common security and defence policy, together with the European Union External Action Service (2011) and a kernel of European armed forces, the “European battlegroups” which however never intervened in foreign fighting.

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The political and semantical entanglement

Divergent positions of the 27 EU Member States challenge the creation of a political agreement between governments, in particular regarding the relationship with NATO and fundamentally with the US. Three are the different paths followed by Member States, which are subdivided by the degree of autonomy they desire.

France wins the first place, guided from the beginning by the defensive spirit of the President Emmanuel Macron who however did not advocate for a net cut with NATO but rather for a strengthening of the European apparatus.

Berlin and Rome arrive second, asking for command grants and compromises. The German request asks the renouncement of France to its seat of permanent member of the UN Security Council, which in the light of a European common army would grant to the country a disproportionate political power in the assignment of the troops worldwide.

Having signed the Quirinale Treaty together with Paris, Rome gains a key mediating and negotiating role in the debate without however boasting the political and ideological stability required to perform such


The least favourable to the establishment of a common army are the Central Eastern countries just arrived in Europe, which base their security on the protection granted by the US and on the ideological cooperation, peace and “soft-threats” guiding the European Union.

Source: Unsplash.

What’s next?

“The Defense Union is the only possible response to this crisis”, these are the words of the EU Military Committee President Claudio Graziano, who highlights however that evident maintenance, supply and training problems will require not only higher spending, but mainly better spending in the EU. According to him, the main result of this effort would be the development of a new European power equipped with strategic elements concerning command and control structures, transport, surveillance and reconnaissance, drones and electronic cyber and anti-missile defence systems.

From this assumption, it derives that the main aim of this intervention would be to go beyond the European battlegroups and to create a sort of army operating in areas of crisis and to be mobilised in a flexible and interoperable manner.

The real dilemma of the discussion lies on the idea of a “multi-speed defence” Europe, with forerunner countries followed by the possible abstention of the others. The danger of this path could be a possible and eventually permanent political split of the European Union, bearer of disruption and hostility.


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