What is the European Army for?

Published in Investor’s Business Daily, 28 December 2000 - Why does the European Union need an army, and what is it for?

What is the European Army for?

By Quentin Langley

Dateline 16 December 2000

What is the European Army for? Simply asking this question identifies me as British. In most European countries this question has little or no meaning.

In nearly all the small countries, and also in Germany and Italy, asking what any for European proposal is for is to declare eccentricity. It doesn’t have to be for anything. It is enough that it is a proposal to harmonise and integrate. This marks it as, of necessity, a good thing. The European project is about building a country, and one of the attributes of statehood is that states have armies, therefore Europe must have one.

For smaller European countries, such as Holland, or Belgium, describing a proposal as “European” is the highest praise that can be mustered. This is understandable. When today’s Dutch pensioners began their working careers Holland had a global Empire, proportionally as large as Britain’s. The fourth largest country in the world – Indonesia – was then the Dutch East Indies. But how can a country of just 15.7 million people be as influential as that today? The answer that the Dutch have found is to part of something larger. Florida, with some 300,000 fewer people, has just chosen the President of the United States.

In Italy, where institutions of family, church, and locality are very strong, the nation state is new and widely regarded as ineffective. For any area of government activity to be taken from the nation-state and given to the localities or to European institutions seems both obvious and desirable.

In Germany support for European institutions does not stem from a history of weak national sentiment but from a history of strong national sentiment which today’s Germans wish to disown. But Germany is less pro-European than it was. Within the past few years, Germany has, for the first time since 1945, sent armed forces abroad, has reunified, and has passed into the hands of the first post-war generation. National self-confidence is growing. Germany may become a normal country.

The Spanish, the Greeks and Portuguese tend to regard the questioning of any new European proposal as irrelevant. It doesn’t matter what the European Army is for. What matters is that they should be allowed to participate. If there is to be a European currency, a European Army, or even a European bus timetable, Spain must be part of it in order to be fully European.

For the French, the question makes perfect sense. It was France that blocked the previous proposal for a European Army some 50 years ago. And, for the French, the question also has a clear answer. It is to make Europe’s defence independent of America. During the cold war, France liked to play the two superpowers off against each other. Today, that isn’t possible, so France seeks to drive a wedge between Europe and America.

If you were to address the question to the British government the immediate response would be “what European Army?”. It is essential to the Blair government’s positioning that it is not an army, but the “European Rapid Reaction Force”. Blair successfully fought at the Nice summit to have the term “European Army” excluded from both the treaty and the communiqué.

To Britain’s Eurosceptics, however, the European Army is part of a project to create a federal state. In their basic premise the Eurosceptics are right. When the Government suggests that the Opposition Conservatives are out of line with the rest of Europe they are only partly right. In regarding the project as a building block of a new country the Conservatives are completely in line with the continent. It is Britain’s Europhiles, in denying that there is any plan to build a federal Europe, who are out of line with the rest of the continent.

So who will win the battle to define what the European Army is for? For the moment, it is merely an arrangement by which a group of countries can agree to dispatch a joint force to some theatre. It can only consider action if NATO has already discussed the issue and decided not to act. But how will it develop? Only the French have a clear idea of anything they wish the force to achieve, which is why Britain and the USA are right to worry. The Conservatives’ Shadow Defence Secretary sent papers from Nice to the Bush team, who have found the whole project concerning.

The arguments will continue, but whether the Army will ever fight is another question.

Copyright © Quentin Langley 16 December 2000

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