Britain has long been described as the EU’s ‘awkward partner’; unable to wholeheartedly give consent to the European Project. As an island nation, often proud of its geographical isolation, Britain has never prescribed to a notion of continental collectively – fearful of a United States of Europe. Traditionally, this sentiment has been the impetus behind Euroscepticism and, more recently, no doubt a contributing factor to the Brexit vote. The UK’s demands for sovereignty are consistently conflicting with the EU’s efforts to bring member states closer together. One of the issues, at the centre of this incompatibility, is the concept of an EU army.
In a recent radio interview, French President Emmanuel Macron called for a “real European Army” – highlighting this key Europhile obsession that remains a core aim of the bloc’s project. It is a stark reminder to Britain that, by leaving the EU, the correct decision is being made. The UK does not seek to undermine the defence and security of the region, but recognises an EU army is hugely unnecessary – partly because NATO already exists. Macrons comments both undermine these current arrangements and are hypocritical.
— The Telegraph (@Telegraph) November 10, 2018
Currently, member states are obliged to contribute 2% of GDP to the NATO budget. The UK manages to do this (2.1 per cent) whilst France falls short of the expectation, contributing just 1.8 per cent. Therefore, it is possible to question the integrity of Macron’s comments. Arguably, he does not have the interest of European security at heart, but is simply driven by ambition to create a more all-encompassing and overarching Europe. He will not commit to NATO forces, but he is able to call for an EU army.
The creation of an EU army would potentially lead to forms of institutional contention. On one hand, a faction who favour strong American involvement – such as Poland, who recently asked the Trump administration to establish a new military base in its territory. Equally, the UK also falls into this category, recognising its unique alliance with the US – often described as a ‘special relationship’. On the other, there are the ‘Gaullists’, assertive of European independence and wary of an over-reliance on US help. Europe would not benefit from a disagreement between NATO and the EU over who should be the regional security provider.
An EU army is also implausible for a number of other reasons. A collective defence force could blur the lines of responsibility between EU members states; some countries presumably closer to insecurity, in the form of an aggressive Russia or flows of mass migration, and therefore more answerable to immediate action. On a similar note, any nation that did not feel endangered could put at risk the security of others, by vetoing or blocking deployment.
A decision to leave the EU was not an abandonment of commitments towards security. Britain does not take the issue lightly. However, whilst NATO is still the principal engineer of military cooperation, there is no need for an EU army.