political revue


Year LVIII, 2016, Single Issue, Page 64






As we have seen at different junctures over the decades, it is not easy to solve the problems that, still today, prevent the Europeans from enjoying autonomous capabilities and credibility in the area of their foreign and security policy. This was seen to be true shortly after the end of Second World War, with the failure of the European Defence Community project when the process of European integration was still in its infancy. Similarly, in the decades following the end of the bipolar world order, a period that had seemed to offer openings for the construction of a new continental and global order based on a logic of mutual security between East and West, no easy answers could be found. At the start of the present century, when the occupation of Iraq by US and British troops prompted France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg to renew calls for the creation of a European military headquarters with greater autonomy from the USA, once again the depth of the difficulties to be overcome was clearly apparent.

Today, as a result of the British vote for Brexit, to say nothing of the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States, Europe’s defence has become a pressing issue once again, and, as in the past, we are seeing just how great the difficulties are. The proposals put forward so far are extremely cautious for two reasons: first, the national governments and the European Commission are aware of the present tensions between the different European countries, and second, the single governments, unwilling to take chances that might damage their performance at the polls, are opting for inertia. As repeatedly underlined by Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission (HRVP), the idea of creating a European army in a short space of time is currently out of the question. Indeed, not only is this objective not even on the table, and impossible to pursue in the framework of the current Treaties, it would also be pointless, given that “even NATO does not have a NATO army”.[1] This latter assertion is actually true only in a formal sense, however, as there can be no denying that NATO’s credibility is based on the strength and capacity for action and deterrence of an army — the US army — that has played a fundamental role in all the major military operations in which it has intervened since the end of the Second World War, and remains a decisive force today.

Donald Trump, tapping into a sense of malaise and discontent that has been brewing for some time on the other side of the Atlantic,[2] has repeatedly and emphatically called for a loosening of America’s commitment to Europe’s defence. Yet even the anxiety generated by the prospect of a US disengagement, financial as well as military, from Europe does not seem to be enough to convince the Europeans that they need to abandon the mindset that leads them to pursue nothing more than a mere strengthening of their existing military alliance, and instead endeavour to create a true European defence union .

To take stock of, and summarise, the concrete developments in the debate on these issues now unfolding in Europe, we here briefly outline, in chronological order, the various proposals that have so far been advanced.

I. The European Commission’s Global Strategy for the European Union’s Foreign And Security Policy (EU Global Strategy, EUGS), submitted to the European Council in late June, rests on three guiding principles, all of which are taken up in the various other proposals mentioned below.

The first principle is to make full use of the possibilities offered by the existing Treaties. To begin with, Europe could finally deploy the EU Battlegroups. Directly controlled by the Council of the European Union, the EU Battlegroups are military units, each consisting of 1500 troops provided, in rotation, by member states. Although the system reached full operational capacity in 2007, no Battlegroup has yet seen active service. It is easy to see why this instrument has never been used. The headquarters of the groups rotates, according to their composition, and the resources at their disposal depend on the amount that each of the single states contributing to a Battlegroup is willing to spend. Their organisational and operational structure is further complicated by the fact that the countries participating in the different groups also include non-EU NATO members (Norway and Turkey), as well as countries that are not members of either the EU or NATO (Macedonia and Ukraine). On the other hand, other countries (Denmark and Malta), despite being EU members, do not contribute to any of the Battlegroups. But the most important point highlighted by the EUGS is the possibility to implement Articles 42.6 and 46 TEU, which gives certain EU countries the possibility of strengthening their cooperation in military matters through the mechanism of permanent structured cooperation. This, too, is an instrument that so far has never actually been used given that, even though it can be implemented through a qualified majority vote by the Council, its workability is limited by the fact that adoption of the cooperation’s decisions and recommendations is subject to unanimity among the participating Council members (which must therefore have decided unanimously, beforehand, what they intend to do together). Conscious of the difficulties inherent in launching and implementing this mechanism in practice, HRVP Mogherini also recalled the possibility of evoking Article 42.7 (on the obligation of aid and assistance towards member states that are the victims of armed aggression on their territory) and the hitherto unused Article 44 (under which the Council can entrust a group of states with certain military tasks).

The second guiding principle of the EUGS is to fully explore the possibilities for better planning and coordination of joint military and civilian operations in crisis areas, while its third is to identify the strategic industrial and technological capabilities in the field of defence that need to be promotedjointly, also through financial incentive mechanisms.

Clearly, on an institutional level, the development of the EUGS, to which the member states were invited to respond with considerations and proposals of their own, never goes beyond the framework of the intergovernmental method as defined and structured (for the field foreign and security policy) by the existing Treaties. Accordingly, both the launch of closer cooperation and, above all, the implementation and funding of this mechanism are issues that remain firmly in the hands of the Council.

II. France and Germany were quick to respond to the EUGS, putting forward considerations and suggestions that, however, remained essentially in line with the approach adopted by the Commission. Indeed, following the presentation of the European Commission’s strategy, as many as three papers were submitted jointly by French and German government ministers. The first was presented by foreign ministers Jean-Marc Ayrault and Frank-Walter Steinmeier (27 June), the second by interior ministers Bernard Cazeneuve and Thomas de Maizière (23 August), and the third by defence ministers Jean-Yves Le Drian and Ursula von der Leyen (11 September). In this latter paper, the two ministers underlined the importance of translating the EUGS into concrete actions, of actually using the permanent structured cooperation mechanism, and of setting up a central military headquarters. But they also specified that any chain of command should be headed by the Brussels-based EU Political and Security Committee, which is composed of the member states’ ambassadors in Brussels and chaired by representatives of the European External Action Service. On the financial side, the two ministers, while calling for the creation of new dedicated financial instruments, failed to specify how these might be sourced and governed.

III. German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble, delivering a speech last October, was similarly vague. While stating that the European Union would “soon need a common defence budget” and that the EU countries’ financial resources in the defence sector, if pooled, would greatly exceed Russia’s military budget, he failed to outline the framework that would allow such a sharing of resources, or how his proposal might be reconciled with current German policy in this area. Indeed, the German government, after 25 years of cuts, recently decided unilaterally to significantly increase its national defence budget for the next five years.

IV. Italy’s contribution to the ongoing process of reflection on the EUGS is a paper recently presented by then foreign minister Gentiloni and defence minister Pinotti. Although this document, too, remains in the ambit of policies that can be pursued within the existing framework, and among other things expresses support for deployment of the Battlegroups and recourse to the permanent structured cooperation mechanism, it nevertheless urges the European partners to go a step further. Indeed, the paper suggests that full use of the possibilities offered by the Treaties should go hand in hand with discussion, among interested member states, of a more ambitious option, namely the launching of a kind of European Defence Union, modelled on the Schengen system. By pooling their forces and commands and sharing their control, manoeuvre and response capabilities, the countries participating in this Union could create, as the core of a future integrated European force, a joint military European force permanently available to the EU military headquarters. This proposal, unlike the previous ones, addresses the issue of the nature of a future European military force, yet it fails to consider the institutional context in which this should be set. This is actually rather surprising in view of the paper’s opening assertion: “when the context no longer corresponds to the aspirations of the times in which we live, then we must change the context”.

V. On November 14, 2016 the EU’s 28 foreign affairs and defence ministers approved the Implementation Plan on Security and Defence presented by Federica Mogherini.[3] This plan, which will be presented to Europe’s heads of state and government at forthcoming summits, has been hailed by the French and German defence ministers as an important step, moving Europe closer towards greater strategic autonomy in military matters and decreasing its dependence on Washington. In reality, however, it does not constitute a significant advance with respect to the other proposals on the table. In two parts in particular (the ones dealing with the financial aspects and the actual implementation of permanent structured cooperation in the defence area), it only provides confirmation of the various governments’ difficulties and hesitations when faced with a real chance to set out on this route. With regard to the need for increased financial solidarity, it merely remarks that “Member States to agree to consider financing in a comprehensive manner, reinforcing solidarity, effectiveness and flexibility to underpin the Level of Ambition and enhance CSDP [Common Security and Defence Policy] responsiveness” (point 11 of the document). With regard to the second aspect, i.e. making full use of the Treaty potential, the member states simply declare that they “agree to explore the potential of a single and inclusive PESCO [Permanent Structured Cooperation] based on the willingness of Member States to strengthen CSDP by undertaking concrete commitments. If so requested, the HRVP can provide elements and options for reflection” (point 12 of the document).

For the moment, then, the need to change the institutional framework in which decisions are made and action is taken does not seem to be a priority concern among those apparently wanting to give Europe its own defence capability. And yet this is, precisely, the crucial point, as was recently emphasised by, among others, the authors of comments on the German government’s 2016 White Paper on German Security Policy[4] published by Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, from which we quote a particularly significant passage. “In short,” write the authors of the comment “CSDP has failed to fulfil its potential due to a lack of political will. Using the concept and the term “union” in the context of European integration implies that this can only mean a long-term communitisation of the policy field, as has been the case with monetary union. This could mean, for example, creating the post of a fully-fledged EU Commissioner with authority over EU troops and transferring parliamentary approval from national parliaments to the European Parliament. This significant leap towards integration may well be an objective of German security policy. But those in favour of this objective should be absolutely clear about it and outline the steps to get there with a binding timetable, as was the case with monetary union. Given the current widespread aversion to greater integration, the argument in the White Paper for a Security and Defence Union initially appears ambitious, but it suffers from the impression of indecision and half-heartedness. [5]These are, in fact, criticisms that may be extended to practically the whole of the ongoing debate on Europe’s defence.

* * *

The EU countries, geopolitically caught between the US and Russia, and situated on the fringe of African and Middle Eastern regions that are plagued by persistent and acute political and economic instability, are structurally exposed to the risks of unrest and agreements made at their expense. And unless these dangers are addressed rationally and systematically, European security will be undermined and the EU itself will be at risk of disintegrating. It is no longer just a question of preserving Europe’s level of well-being; what is at stake now is peace. Given the close interactions that exist between security policy and foreign policy, which, in turn, are closely intertwined with trade and infrastructure and policies on transport and communications, as well as industrial and energy policies, it is clear that the value of any attempt to address Europe’s security, both internal and external, can only be palliative if it amounts to nothing more than the pursuit of greater sectoral cooperation in the military field between states and governments, and fails to even consider the issue of the creation and management of a European army (however big or small this may be, and however complex and coordinated, between national and European levels, its operational framework). Furthermore, in an era in which nuclear deterrence is destined to continue to play an important role, it is equally unrealistic to imagine that the nature and structuring of a European defence capacity are issues that can safely be left in abeyance. This is, after all, an era in which, as remarked last April by the Russian-American Valdai Discussion Club in a report entitled What Makes Great Power War Possible, we are seeing “a clear trend away from strict rules of warfare or the existence of any tangible separation between war and peace.” It is an era in which conflict between major continental powers has extended to the space and cyber domains, to the great electronic control and monitoring infrastructures, and to the energy, financial and information domain, and one in which even a regional flare up, to say nothing of an eventual conflict, could “destroy important parts of the modern world all states depend on. [6]

As history itself has taught us, attempts to achieve sectoral integration in the military field, being inextricably linked with foreign policy and with the issue of political scrutiny, are bound to fail unless they are accompanied by a project for political union. We need only recall the failed attempt to create a European army through the European Defence Community (EDC). The idea behind the EDC project was to create institutions similar to those of the European Coal and Steel Community, but with military as opposed to economic competences, and without any reference to political institutions of a democratic and federal nature. It did not take long, in fact, for the negotiations to come up against the obstacle represented by the contradictory situation of attempting to address the defence of 1950s Western Europe without also resolving the crucial issue of the government that would be needed to manage it. Altiero Spinelli and Alcide de Gasperi found a way of overcoming this contradiction, namely to link the creation of a European army to the establishment of a supranational political body to be elected directly by the Europeans. This solution found concrete expression in the draft European Political Community (EPC) Treaty drawn up by an Ad Hoc Assembly established for the purpose. It is worth recalling here the opening words of the Information and Official Documents of the Constitutional Committee, a text prepared up by Von Brentano (chairman of the Constitutional Committee set up within the Ad Hoc Assembly) as an introduction to the Draft Treaty embodying the Statute of the European Community: “When signing on 27 May 1952 the Treaty of the European Defence Community, the Six Governments said that they were conscious ‘that this is a new and essential step towards the creation of a united Europe’. The Treaty did not confine itself, in point of fact, to giving verbal expression to the common determination of the Six Countries to integrate their armed forces in a European army within the framework of a supra-national community; it also laid down the procedure to be followed in determining the definitive structures of Europe. Under Article 38 of the Treaty, the Assembly of the EDC was instructed to examine within six months from its inauguration ‘the constitution of an Assembly of the European Defence Community, elected on a democratic basis’ which might ‘constitute one of the elements in a subsequent federal or confederal structure, based on the principle of the separation of powers and having, in particular, a two-chamber system of representation’.”[7] In short, the original plan for sectoral integration in the military field, to be feasible, should have been set within an unambiguous plan for political unification, that, had it been carried through to completion, would certainly have marked the start of the construction of a true European federal state .[8]

It is no coincidence that Guy Verhofstadt, speaking before the European Parliament Committee on Constitutional Affairs on July 12, 2016, recalled the historical precedent of the EPC, and did so precisely in order to underline that the key issue that must be addressed, if Europe is to find a way out of the various crises and overcome its own powerlessness, remains the creation, a process still unfinished, of a political community, a political union . In fact, the Verhofstadt report[9]sets the issues of defence and foreign policy in the framework of a federal-type reform of the European institutions .

* * *

In the light of all that has been said above, it is clear that today, as in the last century, the crucial problem of Europe’s defence cannot be resolved merely by tackling certain sectoral issues and without creating the conditions that will allow an evolution, in a federal direction, of the current EU structure. By merely pursuing greater integration in the military field without really wanting to overcome the purely intergovernmental perspective, Europe runs a very high risk of failing, precisely because, in the defence field, even more than in the monetary one, capacity to act is not just a question of rules, but of power and sovereignty.

As happens in other sectors, first and foremost the economic and financial sectors, where effective European policies are urgently needed, the governments’ reluctance to build a true supranational (federal) power at European level means that the current proposals on defence are limited by the will to keep them within the intergovernmental framework. Instead, as Wheare pointed out, it is only in a federation that a government with the power to decide and operate in areas of common interest can be the tool for action.[10]

The time has come to stop making excuses and instead strive to combine the issue of European defence with the development of a federal union design. This must be the priority for all those who truly appreciate the desperately urgent need to work for peace in Europe and in the world.

Franco Spoltore

[1] See, in this regard the statements made by Federica Mogherini in her addresses given on 5 and 27 September and in the press conference of November 14 on the occasion of emergency meeting of the 28 foreign affairs and defence ministers to discuss the implementation of the Global Strategy proposed by the

[2] An explicit and formal request to the Europeans to shoulder more responsibility for their defence had already been advanced during the Obama presidency by the then US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates, who issued the blunt warning that “there will be dwindling appetite and patience in the U.S. Congress — and in the American body politic writ large — to expend increasingly precious funds on behalf of nations that are apparently unwilling to devote the necessary resources or make the necessary changes to be serious and capable partners in their own defense.” The Security and Defense Agenda (Future of NATO), as delivered by Secretary of Defence Robert M. Gates, Brussels, Belgium, Friday, June 10, 2011,

[3] Implementation Plan on Security and Defence, by the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Vice-President of the European Commission, and Head of the European Defence Agency, 14 November 2016,

[4] The 2016 White Paper on German Security and the Future of the Bundeswehr, Federal Ministry of Defence,

[5] Markus Kaim, Hilmar Linnenkamp, The New White Paper 2016 – Promoting Greater Understanding of Security Policy?, Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP) - German Institute for International and Security Affairs, Comments 2016/C 47, November 2016 -



[8] In this regard, see Sergio Pistone in Il ruolo di Altiero Spinelli nella genesi dell’art. 38 della CED e del progetto della CEP, Contributions to the Symposium in Luxembourg, 17-19 May 1989, Publications of the European Community Liaison Committee of Historians, Giuffré, Milan 1993.

[9] This report is currently under discussion in the European Parliament, which is due to vote on it by the end of 2016.

[10] K.C. Wheare, The Constitutional Structure of the Commonwealth, Oxford University Press, London, 1963. See, in this regard, his considerations on considerations on the limits of cooperation, pp.128-129 and 135-136.



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