Sleepwalking to an EU defence force

THE EU has wanted a major role in defence for at least ten years. Its motive is entirely political. Those that wish to see the creation of a state called Europe, performing in its own right on the world stage, naturally believe that the EU should have armed forces at its disposal to pursue its own foreign policy objectives.

Geoffrey Van Orden MEP

THE EU has wanted a major role in defence for at least ten years. Its motive is entirely political. Those that wish to see the creation of a state called Europe, performing in its own right on the world stage, naturally believe that the EU should have armed forces at its disposal to pursue its own foreign policy objectives.

I hasten to say that I do not share this view. This EU ambition chimes well with the 50-year old French objective to remove American influence from European security policy - in other words to marginalise NATO and replace it with a new European Defence Union, presumably under French leadership. These two tendencies have combined and I fear are gathering momentum in the lead up to the NATO Summit in six weeks' time.

The new US administration is keen to build bridges with disgruntled allies on the continent of Europe and at the same time needs more support for operations in Afghanistan. So it tried to do a deal.


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Meanwhile our Labour government doesn't know which way to turn. It bears responsibility for enabling EU Defence policy.

You will recall that it was the St. Malo Agreement with France in December 1998 that gave the green light to an autonomous EU military capability. At that time the government was keen to burnish its EU credentials and unwisely chose to play the defence card. Of course, it was worried then, as it is now, that a UK absence from EU defence would mean giving France free reign. But we also, quite rightly attach importance to NATO as the essential guarantor of our security.

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So, for the past ten years the government has been engaged on a damage limitation exercise, trying desperately to prevent the EU ambitions which it unleashed from undermining NATO. It has done this by smoke and mirrors to convey the idea that, far from damaging NATO, the EU's pretensions somehow reinforce NATO. Such was Mr Blair's standing in the White House that he almost persuaded the Americans that this might be the case.

However, the recent NATO defence Ministers meeting in Krakow will have shown Obama's people that the continental Europeans were not going to do more for NATO in Afghanistan. Only the Brits were willing to do what was necessary. The trouble is, in exchange for promises unlikely to be fulfilled, agreement had already been reached to hand one of the top two NATO commands to a French officer and for NATO to accept that the EU be allowed to establish its own Operational Planning HQ.

This sorry saga reveals only too plainly that most of the continental Europeans are not willing to contribute more to defence, and that they are happy to play the French/EU game as this seems a cheaper option. They hope, nevertheless, that the US will stick around - just in case.

I have always taken the view that the EU could play a useful role in crisis resolution through the use of civil instruments. In other words, it could provide humanitarian aid, help with police training, and reconstruction programmes leaving NATO to do the military tasks. But this does not satisfy the appetite of those bent on establishing a European Army.

The EU currently has no additional military assets to contribute. Whatever troops it needs for its military missions it gets, for the most part, from the same nations already providing troops to NATO. Its military structures are just wasteful, pale duplications of those that already exist in NATO and this at a time of economic stringency and military overstretch.

It has never made sense to me that more or less the same group of nations now gather around two separate tables in two different locations in the same city to discuss the same crisis. The vital exception, of course, is that the US is not at one of the tables.

British Ministers, meanwhile, are in denial. They are sleepwalking towards a European Army and seem to have little awareness of what is going on. The other day we were told by the Minister for Europe 'there are no plans for a European army'. The next day the European Parliament agreed demands for a "Council of Defence Ministers"; a "European statute governing military training standards, operational doctrine and freedom of operational action”; a "Europe-wide division of labour in military capabilities"; and a strengthening of the European Defence College to develop a "specifically European security culture".

What is really needed is the ability for us and the continental Europeans to operate effectively with the armed forces of our most important ally, the United States. Instead, the EU aim is to create something separate. The Government needs to wake up and begin to understand what is happening before it is too late.

Geoffrey Van Orden is Conservative MEP for the East of England and Conservative Defence Spokesman. He can be contacted at 88 Rectory Lane, Chelmsford, CM1 1RF or email: geoffrey.vanorden@europarl.europa.eu

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