Europe must “to become a more independent, more sovereign power”. Facing Russian invasion of Ukraine, Emmanuel Macron called for a relaunch of “defense European”during a speech on Wednesday 2 March† The French president is far from alone in pushing for a genuine European defense union. It must be said that the unity and speed of the response of the Twenty-seven in Moscow have revived the hope of moving the file forward. In a few days, unprecedented decisions were made: sanctions against the Russian economy, reception of refugees, but also the sending of weapons and ammunition to Ukraine.
† Follow the latest information about the war in Ukraine in our live
If observers see this as a historic turning point for the EU, questions remain: what are Brussels’ prerogatives in the field of defence? Why are the discussions around this topic so complicated? How important are the decisions being made in response to the war in Ukraine? Franceinfo gives you some answers.
Why is this topic coming to the fore again?
while you come “upsetting the balance of the world”“The Russian invasion of Ukraine has revived the European defense dossier, explains franceinfo Federico Santopinto, researcher of the Group for Research and Information on Peace and Security (Grip). †There was a violent realization on the part of the Europeans that the war had returned to the continent.” This resulted in the unanimous approval of several sanctions plans against Russia, while the bloc hesitated for a while about the extent of measures to be taken against Vladimir Putin’s regime.
Two highlights took place on Sunday 27 February. Firstly, the announcement of the EU’s decision to buy and supply arms and ammunition to Ukraine for an amount of EUR 450 million. The measurement, a first in history, is “remarkable”says Adája Stoetman, researcher and specialist in the field of the Institute for International Relations in Clingendael (the Netherlands).
“It shows that the EU is willing and able to act on defense rather than talk. That has been lacking in recent years.”Adája Stoetman, researcher at the Clingendael Institute for International Relations
Another noteworthy announcement: that of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, that his government would authorize shipments of arms to Ukraine and increase the defense budget to 2% of GDP. “It really is a cultural revolutionsummarizes Delphine Deschaux-Dutard, lecturer in political science at the University of Grenoble-Alpes. Until then, Germany had a tradition linked to its history: it was very cautious militarily, it favored diplomacy and refused to intervene beyond its borders.† this bend “180 degrees” therefore paves the way for a change in European doctrine on this subject.
What are the EU’s defense prerogatives?
European defense is organized around two main principles: unanimous decision-making and the primacy of the national level. Defense remains a sovereign power exercised by the States, recalls Delphine Deschaux-Dutard, contacted by franceinfo. †We don’t have a European army but 27 national armies†adds Ronja Kempin, researcher at the German think tank Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, interviewed by franceinfo.
The prerogatives of the EU therefore mainly relate to cooperation between Member States. However, several instruments have been put in place under the Common Security and Defense Policy, including: the Political and Security Committee, which deals with crisis management in Brussels, the Military Committee, in which each member of the Member State is represented by a military delegate, or otherwise the EU military staff. This last one “is not intergovernmental in nature, but it does represent the interests of Europeans”shadow Delphine Deschaux-Dutard† “He is primarily concerned with monitoring, strategy and planning, and coordinates joint military operations.”
The EU also has several financial instruments at its disposal: the European Defense Fund, intended to support military research, and the European Peace Facility, which is mainly used to finance the shipment of equipment to third countries. It is this provision that was used for Ukraine, which allowed the purchase of 450 million euros in armaments. Finally, permanent structured cooperation, a novelty introduced in 2007 by the Lisbon Treaty, allows: “a concrete deepening of defense cooperation”, explains Adája Stoetman. Sign of “good luck” of the initiative, the latter was joined by 25 of the 27 Member States.
So the EU cannot intervene militarily?
The Union does not have its own army, but can decide to send missions under the European flag, consisting of troops from the Member States. In total, the Twenty-Seven has been launched “nearly 30 missions, including ten civilian operations and six military missions still ongoing”, says Adája Stoetman. For example, the EU is training Malian troops as part of a mission launched in 2013. Interventions are: “always in conflict”without getting involved, Ronja Kempin adds.
Is the idea of a Defense Europe new?
The desire to build a common defense policy dates back to the 1950s. “The first attempt is made with the European Defense Community, with the idea of creating a European army”says Delphine Deschaux-Dutard. But it is a failure, as France has rejected the treaty.“It was not until the 1990s that the idea surfaced again, thanks to the Balkan crisis.
“The war in Bosnia was a trigger for France and Germany, because we realized that it was not possible to act without the Americans.”Delphine Deschaux-Dutard, lecturer in political science at the University of Grenoble-Alpes
The issue of stronger integration seemed to arise in 1998, when the United Kingdom accepted the principle of an autonomous European defense capability. But hopes are soon dashed, underlines Delphine Deschaux-Dutard. “Basically, the problem is always the same, we can’t agree on the idea of autonomy: the British wanted NATO to give its approval for the creation of this force, while the French wanted to break away from NATO.
Why is it so complicated for Europeans to agree on this issue?
Firstly, because the EU has 27 different armies, and therefore the same number “military and strategic cultures”, emphasizes Delphine Deschaux-Dutard. †Not all states have the same traditions. Faced with terrorism, France has no problem deploying Sentinel force soldiers to patrol the streets. That is unthinkable in Germany.”
The issue is also of a financial nature, as some capitals, such as Berlin not so long ago, are less inclined to invest in defense. Another point of contention: the definition of the threats facing the EU. “The Baltic states or Poland, for example, will look much more to the east than France or Spain, which is why their priorities differ”notes the Dutch researcher Adája Stoetman.
Does a European defense risk weakening NATO?
Some member states see the French proposal for strategic autonomy of the EU as a way to go beyond the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Founded in 1949, this alliance aims to protect its members from outside threats, 30 of them. For some countries, especially in Eastern Europe, membership in this organization is vital to ensure their defense against Russia.
“Baltic states and Poland fear common defense policy will undermine NATO”, Adája Stoetman explains to franceinfo. A view rejected by Federico Santopinto: “I do not believe that European defense is incompatible with NATO. It is a policy that fits into a larger integration process, which complements the Alliance’s missions.”
Will the war in Ukraine boost the European defense project?
This is the analysis shared by many experts. “I think this is a defining moment.makes Ronja Kempin enthusiastic† All member states have understood that the war is back in Europe, that the resources we have are not enough to face the Russian threat.”
“This shock of Russian aggression mobilizes efforts never seen before.”Ronja Kempin, researcher at Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik
Delphine Deschaux-Dutard remains cautious, however. “What is striking about European defense is that it works with crises, but that we keep coming back to the limits that were there before.” Is it fast? “the end of European adolescence” on the subject, as Ronja Kempin says? Aside from the shock of the war in Ukraine, the EU must soon give birth to its strategic compass. This tool should enable it to name the threats it faces for the first time. “A big step forward” and concrete, according to Adája Stoetman.
I was too lazy to read everything, can you give me a summary?
The issue of a common EU defense policy came back to the fore after the Russian invasion of Ukraine on Thursday, February 24. The speed and unity of the European response to Moscow, and in particular the decision to supply arms to Kiev, leads many experts to believe that we are witnessing the birth of a truly common policy among the twenty-seven.
Although the EU does not have its own army, it has created several instruments and organizations to promote operational and financial cooperation between Member States in the field of defense. It may also send missions to third countries, generally support missions, composed of troops from Member States.
But the idea of a common defense policy, which first appeared in 1954, is struggling to move forward. In particular, the inability of the Twenty-seven to agree on the boundaries of such a project and the differences in military culture between each country. Several states, especially in the east of the continent, also fear that the EU will turn its back on NATO, which is considered crucial to their defence.
Brussels’ decision to buy arms and send them to Ukraine, a first in its history, and Germany’s announcement of an increase in its defense budget nevertheless mark a historic turning point for the Twenty-seven. And could herald a new phase of European integration.