Euro In The Army Now!

In Blog, Politicsby Oisin GilmoreLeave a Comment

Above: Irish Anti-War Movement Says No To Lisbon A poster arguing for a no vote in one of the Lisbon referendums. From William Murphy on Flickr.

Every European referendum that happens in Ireland brings with it a plethora of campaigns prattling on about an EU army and neutrality. Mainstream politicians scoff at this and then apparently nothing happens. It feels very much like the boy who cried wolf.  Oisin Gilmore reminds us that the point of that old fable is that the wolf, does in fact, eventually arrive.  So, are we joining a European Army and is the meeja ignoring it?

What has actually happened is that no one  Treaty has created an EU army. Each Treaty has moved us a little bit closer to having an EU army. The centre of all of this has been the development of a common European foreign policy. The EU need to be able to identify enemies before it goes to war against them – obviously!

So the Single European Act in 1987 created “European Political Cooperation”, this was renamed and integrated into the EU with the Maastricht Treaty in 1992. This was significantly expanded with the Amsterdam Treaty in 1997. The voting system changed with Nice in 2002 and then renamed again and greatly expanded and developed with Lisbon in 2008.

With Lisbon, countries in the EU made a major step away from having their own national foreign policy to having a ‘Common Foreign and Security Policy’. This brought with it a European Department of Foreign affairs, called the European External Action Service, and a European Minister of Foreign Affairs, called the High Representative.

The movement towards a European Army has been even more gradual and confusing. We had the Helsinki Headline Goal for a Rapid Reaction Force in 1999, which was little more than saying that by 2003 Europe would be able to deploy 60,000 soldiers in a coordinated effort if needed.

It has since been renamed the “Instrument for Stability” and has never been required. More importantly, we’ve had the development of European Battle Groups. Fully operational since 2007. There are at least two European Battle Groups available for immediate deployment at any time.

Ireland participates in this but these Battle Groups have never been deployed. This is unlike EUFOR, which has been deployed numerous times since its creation in 2003. See the map for more on that.

The EU is currently engaged in 6 military operations overseas. Take a look at the map here. These are mainly peacekeeping missions and the like. A small number of Irish troops are directly involved in the operations in Mali and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

All of which, is to say, that keeping track of the creation of the European Army is tricky. Lots of little changes happen and things move at a glacial pace, but things have moved. And over the last two years the speed of change has picked up dramatically.

There are at least three factors in this speed up. Firstly, the Lisbon Treaty significantly increased the Europeanisation of European foreign policy. However, the first High Representative (EU Foreign Minister) was Catherine Ashton, who kind of got the job by accident and didn’t really want it.

So, although Ashton had a lot of power to do things, for the five years she was in the position, she did almost nothing. But since 2014, there is a new High Representative, Federica Mogherini, who is probably the most important centre leftist in Brussels today and is much more proactive than her predecessor.

Secondly, a major block to the creation of a united European military has been the UK. Essentially, whenever any European initiative was proposed, Britain would respond by asking why don’t we just do this through NATO? Now that the UK is leaving the EU, a lot is changing here at a remarkable pace.

Finally, there is the election of Donald Trump, which means that the appeal of NATO is declining. This is exacerbated by Trump’s pressure on his European allies to increase military expenditure. This is one issue where Trump is technically correct.

NATO members have a commitment to spending 2% of GDP on the military. European members have not been doing this in the knowledge that America will pick up the slack. Trump says that this is unfair to US taxpayers. He is probably right about this, and wants European states to spend more on the military. But if European states spend more on the military, then a lot of them would be more interested in developing a European military force than to continue to play second fiddle to US foreign policy.] So in June 2016, High Representative Mogherini launched the EU Global Strategy (EUGS). This committed Europe to enhanced coordination, increased investment in defence and cooperation in developing and integrating defence capabilities.

In November the was the creation of the Coordinated Annual Review on Defence (CARD). This will be an annual review of European countries defence capacities to ensure they develop in a coherent way. Then in June this year, there was the launch of the European Defence Fund (EDF). From 2020 onwards it will spend €5.5 billion annually on EU defence capabilities.

And, last Monday, November 13th, another major step was made.

Pretty much all of the above-mentioned forms of an EU army are temporary. The Battle Groups rotate every six months. The EUFOR missions last only as long as they last. The Rapid Reaction Force, never even really came into being. But on Monday, member states of the EU agreed to set up a permanent military structure for the EU.

This has the amusingly Euro-bureaucracy type name: PESCO (PErmanent Structured COoperation). 23 countries have agreed to go ahead with PESCO and have called on the European Council in December to set up PESCO.

What exactly is PESCO? So far, it’s kind of unclear. It looks like it will be similar to what is called “enhanced cooperation”, this is basically a way through which developments in the EU can be moved ahead despite the strong opposition of a small number of member states.

How it works is that a large number member states agree to go ahead on an initiative, things progress and then although some states might not participate it is essentially how the EU deals with an issue. Two prominent examples of this would be the Fiscal Treaty that Ireland voted on in May 2012 and the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), the EU bailout fund.

The 23 countries that have agreed to go ahead with PESCO envision it being involved in fulfilling “the most demanding missions and operations”, helping  “the development of Member States’ defence capabilities through an intensive involvement in multinational procurement projects” and, more broadly, strengthening “European defence cooperation”.

The EU describes PESCO as “a permanent framework for closer cooperation and a structured process to gradually deepen defence cooperation within the Union framework. It will be a driver for integration in the field of defence”.

It says that “PESCO will help reinforce the EU’s strategic autonomy to act alone when necessary and with partners whenever possible. Whilst PESCO is underpinned by the idea that sovereignty can be better exercised when working together, national sovereignty remains effectively untouched.”

So pretty major things are happening, although you wouldn’t know it from the Irish media. These developments are hardly being discussed on the radio of television. There are some articles in the Irish Times. But in our other broadsheet, the Irish Independent, there is only one single article on the topic on their entire website.

Although Ireland is not one of the 23 states to sign up to PESCO so far, Fine Gael are currently approaching the independent ministers in government and the “major opposition parties” to get approval for Irish involvement in PESCO. Minister Coveney has said that he was confident Ireland’s participation would be approved.

It looks like Ireland is about to join a permanent combined military structure for the European Union. But you wouldn’t know it from reading the papers.


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