“European Defence Union: More Union in Our Defence?”

(17.05.17) For almost one year now, defence cooperation is climbing the agenda in the European debate. Brexit, Donald Trump repeatedly calling into question US commitment to NATO and Emmanuel Macron’s landslide victory in the French presidential election gave fresh impetus for a discussion on how Europe should deal with a context of rising security threats.

What is the way forward in the pursuit of a common European defence? Is it time for an EU common army?

The European Parliamentary Association stepped into this exciting debate by organising on Wednesday 17 May an informal discussion on “European Defence Union: More Union in our Defence?”, which was attended by around 60 MEPs, members of the diplomatic corps of Strasbourg, heads of other European associations and university students interested in the topic.

Olivier Mirguet, correspondent of the French newspaper La Tribune, moderated the debate, which was opened by the interventions of a panel of experts. These were MEP Michael Gahler, EPP Group spokesperson on Security and Defence, MEP Eva Kaili, chair of the European Parliament’s delegation for relations with the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, MEP Klaus Buchner, member of the subcommittee on Security and Defence, and Eurocorps Brigadier General Franz Pfrengle, former mission commander for the EU Training Mission in Mali.

The European Defence Union is a good vision, a European army is only fiction,” made clear General Pfrengle, insisting on the importance of “developing structures able to put together the national capabilities that we already have”, like, for instance, the European Air Transport Command, which has its seat in Eindhoven.

The relative lack of interoperability between European armies is indeed a severe limit to the EU’s ability to intervene collectively in missions where European interests are at stake.

Michael Gahler, instead, focused on the fact that in Europe the majority of military equipment procurement still takes place at national level. This shortcoming limits economies of scale and produces costly duplications of military capabilities.

“We must become more efficient, we need a single market for arms. It is only if we cooperate at European level that we will manage to face the competition of big arms producers, such as the US, Russia or China,” Michael Gahler pointed out.

Talking about the relationship with NATO, Gahler said, “The European Defence Union does not mean duplicating what we have with NATO…We have difficult NATO partners who may try to bloc NATO resources. That’s why we must build up the capabilities to act independently.”

Eva Kaili focused also on this issue, pointing out, “We must not forget that only 22 EU countries are NATO members. We must provide effective protection also for those member states who are outside the Alliance.”

The speakers agreed that the European Defence Union seems to be on the right track, praising the steps forward made in these months by the High Representative Federica Mogherini.

Finally, Klaus Buchner reflected on the type of missions in which EU forces will be deployed and, in this regard, made clear, “European troops must be deployed for humanitarian interventions.”

Participants showed a great interest in the topic, posing questions that allowed tackling the issue of defence cooperation from different perspectives. The European Parliament Association thanks them and our guest speakers for their contribution to the success of its debate.