But just like after every Olympic games, social media will have an image in it, illustrating that supposedly the European Union has won the most medals (ignoring the elementary fact that if it did compete as a single unit, it would have far fewer representatives in the games), similarly every year, the idea of a European military becomes a public topic of discussions between politicians and political scientists.
Disregarding earlier initiatives and musings on a pan-European military, the idea was brought up for the first time by French Prime Minister Rene Pleven in the 1950s. From then it continuously emerges in public, is discussed in the various larger states’ parliaments and is even entered into ruling coalition programmes.
This year, the question has gained particular traction, with French President Emmanuel Macron supposedly stating in a radio interview that a European military is necessary to “defend from China, Russia and even the USA.” While he was in fact talking about the representation off European interests and not physical defence, only mentioning a European military after a few minutes and in a different context than these three countries.
Regardless, it is clear that E. Macron is continuing the French Gaullist tradition, supporting greater European strategic autonomy from the USA. What is more, German Chancellor Angela Merkel echoed in her speech to the European Parliament that, “One day, a real European army must be created.” Thus, with two of the largest states in the union loudly expressing this idea in a short period of time, also keeping in mind the security questions at the top of the current agenda, musings emerge, more serious than before – does it mean a real, not a rhetorical turn toward a European military?
The response to this can be a firm no. A European military is in practice an equally significant expression as the United States of Europe, that is to say, idea level formulations, which are light years away from real implementation. Such fundamental matters require not only decades, but also absolute unanimous consent from participants to accomplish. The appearance of a new form of sovereignty in Europe would have to replace the current concept of sovereignty, which is deeply rooted in the national state.
Yes, in a global world, the concept of sovereignty is gradually gaining new elements, however core challenges remain unresolved. A United States of Europe would require a political nation of Europe, while a European military – a decision making head of the armed forces. Let us try a thought experiment and imagine how today or even after a decade, a discussion between EU leaders would look like, trying to elect that single individual, who will make decisions on the use of the armed forces. A truly long and heated discussion, however just like me, you probably could not imagine any tangible results either.
We must understand that external security threats are here and now, while the creation of a functioning European military would require at least thirty years and even then, only in an ideal, hypothetical scenario. Thus, for all, who light-heartedly juggle the idea of a European military, should either very specifically describe what they have in mind or instead cease to make use of this term, which says nothing, but always antagonises societies and on the international level – countries that focus on trans-Atlanticism.
It is a classic example when terms have significance in politics. Often, abstract terms or statements become a source of inspiration and uniting – we have to be strong, first, united, safe! However, sometimes they can have the opposite, a dividing function if views of it are too different and not everyone understands that a practical implementation won’t follow the words. European security problems need to be resolved not with abstract, undefined in time ideas, but concrete measures. The European Union and its members must take a greater role in ensuring the continent’s security and this can be done by implementing such projects as a military Schengen, cyber forces or others that are already in the works. Collective security and everyone’s contribution should be the focus, not a European military.