political revue

Year LXIII, 2021, Single Issue, Page 56






Even on my rather slow computer, the term “European army”, when typed into a search engine, produces 10,100,000 results in just half a second.

The recent events in Afghanistan have certainly triggered a rush of articles and essays, varying in value and written from a range of perspectives, underlining Europe’s irrelevance when it comes to the complex and crucial geostrategic approach — geostrategy being the military basis of geopolitics — that is now once again fashionable on the world stage. And, albeit in different terms, they also highlight the need to establish a European army, and the urgency and difficulty of doing so.

Even without considering the CED affair, this is not a new idea, and moreover it is one on which the EU’s highest authorities have adopted clear positions. To begin with, Josep Borrell, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, has proposed a rapid-deployment force of 5,000 troops, and Thierry Breton, Commissioner for the Internal Market, has supported him. Charles Michel, President of the European Council, is in favour of European strategic autonomy, while David Sassoli, speaking as President of the European Parliament, argued that the time has come for a European army. Finally, Ursula Von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, has talked of a defence union as a means of bringing stability to the areas on Europe’s doorstep and to other regions in the world, pointing out that unless Europe is willing to help deal with overseas crises in a timely manner, it will end up having to deal with them on its own soil.

The progress of European integration towards a federal model (which means neither a monolithic state, nor today’s imperfect confederation) is an objective that seems to be increasingly linked to the issues of internal and external security, and the question of a European armed forces should be viewed in this context.[1]

In the past, there has been much talk of the greater efficiency and lower costs of a European army. David Sassoli indicated that he would be in favour if only to save on unnecessary national military spending, which currently leads to hugely wasteful multiplication of assets and capabilities. As shown in an infographic published in 2017 on the European Parliament website, the waste amounts to an estimated 26.4 billion euros per year.[2] The inefficiency is staggering: an article first published in 2019, also on the EP website, pointed out that “more than six times as many defence systems are used in Europe than in the United States”.[3] Furthermore, Europe’s 27 armies, 23 air forces and 21 navies, and its bad military spending together create a situation eloquently illustrated by the following comparison with the USA: “In 2016, Europe had 178 weapon systems (compared with America’s 30), 17 tank models (versus 1 in the US), 20 infantry fighting vehicle models (versus 2), 29 types of destroyer and frigate (versus 4); 20 types of fighter plane (versus 6), 12 types of anti-ship missile (versus 2), and 13 types of air-to-air missile (compared with 3 in the US).”[4]

Others, on the other hand, believe that the European member states should increase their military spending. In fact, whereas Europeans spend between 1 and 2 per cent of GDP on defence and armaments, this proportion rises to 8/9 per cent in the USA, meaning that Americans are also paying for the safety of Europeans. Today, however, this arrangement is no longer tenable, making it necessary for European countries as a whole to consider whether they are prepared to reduce their welfare expenditure in order to free up extra resources for military spending.[5] Italy has already drawn up seven ministerial decrees showing that it is willing and ready to start spending more.[6] The costs involved, to be covered in several instalments, would be at least EUR 3.5 billion for 1,600 Lynx armoured vehicles, 1.9 billion for drones, 800 million to be spent on missiles and radars for the warships Andrea Doria and Caio Duilio, 165 million for other “tactical vehicles”, 187 million for 33 new helicopters for the Carabinieri Corps, and 111 million for optical and radar sensors.

Actually, it has been noted, correctly,[7] that military expenditure by NATO members amounts to around USD 1,100 billion and accounts for 56 per cent of all global military expenditure, which in turn stands at around USD 1,900 billion per year. The contributions by the USA, the UK, Germany, France, Italy, and Canada together cover 90 per cent of spending by NATO (around USD 995 billion) and around 50 per cent all global military expenditure. The 27 EU member states’ annual overall military expenditure (i.e., both within and outside the framework of NATO) amounts to USD 232.8 billion. Therefore, directly and indirectly, military spending by EU countries is considerable, even though it does not compare to the USA’s 778 billion. As the same author points out, in different quarters it is estimated that greater rationalisation of military spending by the different European countries, in particular France (at present 53 billion), Germany (53 billion) and Italy (26 billion), which together currently account for 58 per cent, would significantly reduce (by between 25 and 100 billion!) the costs generated by multiplication of assets and capabilities, without any weakening of defensive capacity.

But the issue of European defence cannot be dealt with constructively unless it is viewed from a political perspective and related to the values — rule of law, market economy, freedom of movement, and rights of the individual — that constitute the bedrock of European integration.[8] This, then, is the framework of civilisation that must be defended, improved and enabled to spread its message and experience.

The importance of values was recently underlined by David Sassoli, who explained why authoritarian regimes today are increasingly worried by Europe: “Why do all authoritarian regimes care about us? There is only one reason. European values are frightening, because freedoms allow for equality, justice, transparency, opportunity, peace. And if it is possible in Europe, it is possible everywhere.”[9]

In any case, Europe’s peace and its ability to spread it are not entrusted, either exclusively or even mainly, to military force. While we, from within, are aware of all Europe’s limits, those outside clearly see its appeal and the positive difference it makes. We saw this at the time of the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia: the two sides had barely finished ripping each other to shreds when they started knocking at the EU’s door. It has now become necessary to take a broader view than that taken by those who see European defence as a necessity created solely by the Americans’ decision to turn its attention from the Atlantic to another world region. A Europe capable of a developing a proper strategy towards critical neighbouring areas — the Mediterranean, North Africa, the Middle East — would be able to offer a meaningful response to the growing influence of Russia and Turkey, and at the same time allow the USA to pursue its current priorities, which are mainly linked to its face-off with China.[10]

As regards the political framework within which to set the issue of European defence, it must be appreciated that the creation of a European defence can be reconciled with the EU’s structural vocation to pursue peace, and Europe can constitute an example and impetus for the establishment of peaceful relations worldwide, only if the EU becomes fully federal.[11] A continent capable of taking care of its own defence and at the same time uniformly committed to general disarmament would be a highly positive new scenario. In particular, Europe could be the test bench for the simultaneous launch of a common peace corps and the core of a common army.

As regards the first of these objectives, numerous proposals have previously been presented to the European Parliament, in particular by Alex Langer, without being adopted. The idea first appeared officially on 17 May, 1995 in the European Parliament Resolution on the Treaty on European Union, also known as the “Bourlanges-Martin report”: “A first step towards a contribution to conflict prevention could be the establishment of a European Civil Peace Corps (including conscientious objectors) with training of monitors, mediators and specialists in conflict resolution.” Assisted by Ernst Gülcher, Langer, who inspired the above words, drew up detailed notes, For a civilian United Nations and European Union peace corps, some ideas, perhaps unrealistic. He envisaged that the corps should have staff of about a thousand people (some professionals and the rest volunteers) who should be adequately trained and equipped to intervene in conflicts before any outbreak of violence, and have the capacity to remain in place usefully even in their acute phase, and to work to restore and mend relationships at the end of their bloodiest phase. These are necessary operations that military forces simply cannot carry out.[12] Langer, driven by what he saw as the urgency of the proposal, scheduled, for 7 July 1995, a meeting in Brussels between representatives of peace movements and international experts, intending to press for a parliamentary resolution establishing a European civilian peace corps. However, on 3 July, overwhelmed by the burden of the many causes and commitments he had taken on, he ended his life. After Langer’s death, the issue was raised again on several occasions until two feasibility studies were finally conducted, the first by the European Parliament in 2004, and the second by the Commission in 2005.

As for the creation of a European defence, this presupposes, as mentioned, the simultaneous establishment of a political union, and it is easy to imagine that a small, effective, federally funded force would act as a powerful magnet.[13] However, the difficulty of this step for 27 member states opens up the prospect of a two-speed Europe, and therefore of the creation of a federal core within the European Union. As pointed out by Armellini, “the necessary tool for achieving this exists in the form of the Conference on the Future of Europe, which was meant to be a means of redesigning the EU but, through a series of procrastinations, has instead gradually been transformed into a bureaucratic exercise serving only to fix things here and there, while the earth all around us burns. Perhaps there is still time to get this initiative back on track — this would be a worthy priority for an Italy determined to recover its historic capacity for innovation in European politics.”[14]

[1] A useful reconstruction of the attempts thus far made within the EU, and of their partial successes and failures, is provided in blog posts dated 17 and 18 September 2021: Maddalena D’Aquilio, Verso un esercito europeo? (1) e (2), ( and, which refer to an SPD document that, having been published a year ago, was not written in response to the trauma in Afghanistan ( Its opening theses are perfectly clear: “Die Europäische Union ist noch immer ein sicherheitspolitischer Archipel. Wir brauchen daher nicht nur mehr Inseln der Kooperation, sondern müssen auch gleich mit dem Bau von Festland beginnen. Unser Festland bildet die 28. Armee.” (As far as security is concerned, the European Union is still an archipelago of initiatives. We therefore need not only more cooperation, but also to start building on solid ground immediately. And for us, this solid ground is the 28th army).

[2] European Parliament, Pesco: EU countries sign off on plan for closer defence cooperation,

[3] European Parliament, Defence: is the EU creating a European army?,

[4] Umberto Morelli, Power Politics. The European Union and the International System, The Federalist, 62 (2020), p. 44. According to Lucio Levi, “the cost of military apparatus is steadily becoming more absurd and unacceptable if we consider the military, economic and social consequences of the arms race”. Lucio Levi, The Benefits of Reducing Military Spending, The Federalist, 26 n. 3 (1984), p. 219. It should be noted that Levi was writing before the fall of the Berlin Wall. There was no peace dividend to be exploited and the author, in his article, made a seemingly incredible forecast: “if we project the current economic trends into the future, in the year 2000, military spending will be 646 thousand million dollars”. Now, however, we know that current figures are around three times that.

[5] Ernesto Galli della Loggia, Mentre la Cina agisce, l’Europa non c’è e sa solo discutere, Il Giornale, 9 September 2021. Galli della Loggia considers the question of the quality that armies must possess in order to be able to rise to the current challenges. He concludes that, in quality terms, the US troops previously engaged in Afghanistan fell far short of what was required, being “a mixed army of regular soldiers and mercenaries”, the latter being the so-called contractors used by the United States since the nineties in all theatres of operation (from the Balkans to Iraq). The role of mercenaries in current wars is a topic of great interest, but here I refrain from even touching on it, except to recommend an essay by Orsetta Giolo, Traffico di armi e “privatizzazione della forza”. Quali scenari?, Rivista di studi e ricerche sulla criminalità organizzata, 4 n. 2 (2018), On the need for international police operations, using specialist corps, see L. Ferrajoli, Perché l’ONU non può promuovere né autorizzare la guerra all’Iraq, La rivista del Manifesto, n. 34, December 2002, who argues that “when tackling a criminal organisation, however vast and militarily powerful, it is not a question of waging war, but rather of implementing police measures, which are certainly more difficult but also more effective, capable of neutralising it (…), this therefore means that there must be no raids or air bombardments typical of war, which, causing death and terror among civilian populations, serve only to fuel hatred of the West and increase the proselytising capacity of terrorist gangs, but instead police actions on the ground, naturally implemented with adequate military means, but aimed only at identifying and neutralising terrorist organisations (…). What would be required is the international police force that was envisaged by Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which, had it been established in time, would certainly have intervened in all the crises of recent years with greater credibility and without the useless devastation caused by the wars the West has unleashed in violation of international law.”

[6] Shopping militare: ecco quanto ci costa la spesa di blindati e droni voluta dal ministro della Difesa Guerini, The Post Internazionale, 1 October 2021,

[7] Alberto Quadrio Curzio, Una difesa comune. Perché nella Nato l’Ue paga molto e pesa poco, HuffPost, 2 September 2021,

[8] In this regard, cf. Antonio Armellini, Per la difesa europea serve flessibilità, Corriere della Sera, 29 September 2021.

[9]  Extracts of the speech by President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, at the Commemoration of the Nazi massacre at Cibeno,, 11th minute.

[10] Much has been made of the fact that the prospect of a common European defence does not mean political emancipation from the USA; and the Europeans’ temptation to assume a neutral role similar to that of Switzerland has also been highlighted. F. Fubini, who focuses in particular on Germany’s position in this regard, La tentazione tedesca (ed europea): diventare la Svizzera del mondo, Corriere della Sera, 28 September 2021, writes: “We are all familiar with Switzerland: a democracy that is solid, open, dynamic. And irrelevant. It enjoys the benefits of globalisation while having no involvement in world affairs (…). Signs of such a lack of ambition are, moreover, present beyond Germany, because we Italians, as well as the French, Spanish and Dutch, lack what would once have been called the will for power.” And without this will, it is impossible to be, as is necessary, a power. M. Panebianco (Ma l’Europa non è la Svizzera, Corriere della Sera, 3 October 2021) adds “Switzerland. Not only is it small, whereas Europe is not. Not only has it been, for centuries and centuries, protected by the lie of its land, whereas Europe has not. It has been (protected) for as many centuries by the fact that the freemen of its cantons were ready to make any army that, with great difficulty, entered their mountains and valleys, pay a bloody price (…). To the many sharks that surround it, Europe, rich, peaceful and defenceless, is a coveted and attractive-looking prey. Hardly Switzerland at all.” In the above remarks, the idea that active neutrality can make a contribution to a country’s own peace as well as that of its neigbours and the world as a whole is not even considered.

[11] Umberto Morelli, Power Politics. The European Union and the International System, op.cit.: “Peace is Europe’s structural vocation — in the Schuman Declaration, which marked the birth of European unification, the word peace is repeated six times in the space of a page and a half — and its process of integration is a crucial example and impetus for the affirmation of peaceful relations globally. However, if the objective, expressed at a congress of the European Federalist Movement in the 1980s, really is to unite Europe to unite the world, then Europe has to become fully federal.”

[12] In Langer’s notes, which are worth reading in full (; extracts in English can be found at, the key aspects are clearly defined: The Reasons for Civilian Peace Corps – Organisation – Tasks – Professionalism – Quality – National & International; Men & Women; Young & Old – Voluntary Work – Professionals & Volunteers – Training – How to Prepare CPC operations – Funding – Relations with Military Forces. Langer knows that actions carry no guarantee of success. In the conclusions he writes: “A Peace Corps operation could fail and we should not be ashamed to admit it.” However, a failure of a peace operation leaves behind — I believe I can say — less rubble than a successful military intervention.

[13] The issues involved are again those set out by Morelli in Power Politics…, op. cit. On the very topical issue of fiscal autonomy, and therefore of the possibility of financing the creation of a truly European defence, cf. G. Rossolillo, Applying the ECSC Model to Give the EU Fiscal Power, The Federalist, 62 (2020) p. 131.

[14] According to Armellini, Per la difesa europea serve flessibilità, op.cit., “If a common defence policy for all twenty-seven is not feasible at the moment, what is the way out? Restructuring the European Union in such a way as to make it unitary but flexible. I am not sure that a core group comprising Germany, France, Italy, Spain and perhaps Benelux and some others could work as a driving force…”.

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