Spooked by Putin, EU Brass Considers a European Army
Policy + Politics

Spooked by Putin, EU Brass Considers a European Army

If Russian President Vladimir Putin has been trying to make his European neighbors nervous, he may have succeeded beyond his expectation. The Russian leader’s decision to send warplanes and naval vessels into the territory of his European neighbors, even as his troops are participating in what amounts to an invasion of eastern Ukraine, sparked the call on Sunday for the creation of a European Union Army, specifically designed to counter Russia. 

In an interview published in the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag, European Union Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said, “With its own army, Europe could react more credibly to the threat to peace in a member state or in a neighboring state.”

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He said there would be no intent to deploy such an army immediately, “But a common European army would convey a clear message to Russia that we are serious about defending our European values.”

He added, “Such an army would help us design a common foreign and security policy,” he told the paper. “Europe's image has suffered dramatically and also in terms of foreign policy, we don't seem to be taken entirely seriously.”

Juncker, the former prime minister of Luxembourg, has long been an advocate of a common EU defense force – an idea that has not always been popular. These days, however, the idea appears to be gaining some traction.

Welt am Sonntag also quoted Norbert Röttgen, the chairman of the German Bundestag’s foreign affairs committee as saying, “A common European army is a European vision, whose time has come.”

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Late last month, a task force chaired by the Javier Solana, the EU’s former High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy and a one-time Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, came to a similar conclusion.

While the task force found that EU countries face a number of threats, including radical jihadists and others, the military might of Moscow was arguably the most serious concern. 

“Russia’s infiltrations in Ukraine and provocations to member states’ territorial water and air defenses have…delivered a blow to Europe’s post-Cold War security order and have revived awareness in the EU about the possibility of military attack and occupation in Europe,” the task force report found. 

Calling for “bold and concrete steps towards a more efficient and effective framework for military cooperation,” the authors wrote, “We firmly believe that the time has come for the creation of a European Defense Union that supports NATO in its task to provide territorial defense. An ambitious EU foreign policy aimed at reducing instability and state fragility at the Union’s borders will take on and live up to security responsibilities in the strategic neighborhood through the use of military force and rapid response as needed.” 

Not all EU member countries are interested in creating a collective army. The United Kingdom has been firmly against such a move, and a spokesperson for Prime Minister David Cameron’s government said in a statement Sunday that nothing has changed.

“Our position is crystal clear that defense is a national, not an EU responsibility and that there is no prospect of that position changing and no prospect of a European army,” the statement said.

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