The European defence agenda

The European defence agenda

The European defence agenda

In the latest of our Expert Opinion articles, Geoffrey Van Orden MBE MEP looks at the growing importance of defence at the EU level and sets out his concerns about the current direction of European defence policy.

Geoffrey Van Orden is a former senior British Army officer. He is a Conservative MEP for the East of England and Conservative Defence & Security Spokesman in the European Parliament.

Given the problems that the EU has been facing, from the long-running Eurozone crisis, to stagnant economies, to broken borders thronging with refugees, you would imagine there would be little appetite for another grandiose project. But Commission President Juncker insists that now is the time to push ahead with an “EU Army”. After all, every crisis is an opportunity. That is why the seemingly esoteric issue of “PESCO” – permanent structured cooperation in defence – has again raised its head.

This was one of the many negative aspects of the Lisbon Treaty that Gordon Brown’s Government signed Britain up to. It is encouragement for a “vanguard” group of nations that want to advance EU integration to push forward with defence. They would decide their own rules and move quickly to create their mini EU Army. There is fresh pressure on Britain either to join or at least not to block others from pushing ahead. Both options would be bad. We need to stick to our guns.

The ayatollahs of EU federalism are only too aware that a grip on national armed forces – coupled with an expanding EU foreign policy machine – would be an enormous step in the direction of EU political integration comparable to the common currency. But just picture the situation where the same mindset that devised the Euro is applied to defence. And remember, EU means the Council, the Commission, the European Court of Justice, and the Parliament with its large complement of communists, greens, hard-Leftists and ultra-nationalists. By definition, national governments would have to cede control to Brussels over defence budgets, and defence production and procurement. They would find that operational missions they might favour were out of the question while ones they didn’t particularly want were now on the table.

In terms of military effect, far from the EU being greater than the sum of its parts, there would be diminished capability and reluctant engagement. Who would want to fight for Juncker? Where would be the public support? Old allies would be shunned for a new range of dubious friends. For those old allies, no longer would there be reliable military partners with a shared outlook but instead a suspicious acquaintance, more interested in being a competitor.

So why is such an idea even contemplated? Because in the corridors of Brussels – in the Triangle, the Berlaymont, the Justus Lipsius, the Charlemagne, on the Rue Wiertz and in the scores of other buildings inhabited by the Eurocrats, they spin a good yarn. They impress with reference to the 30 EU “CSDP operations” that have taken place. They omit to mention that not one of them stands up to scrutiny, that most are just civilian missions, and the remainder are either NATO cast-offs or French post-colonial actions.

While the aggregation of statistics from each of the 28 countries to make an impressive EU total – a favourite sleight of hand of the federalists – seems impressive at first glance, it only has meaning if we have given up control of our national defence capability. In any case, many continental governments think there will be no need to spend more money on defence, no need to anguish over meeting NATO’s two per cent of GNI any more – just make savings through the imaginary economies of scale through centralised EU defence procurement.

The EU has been busy creating its own defence structure since 1998. It is deliberately separate from NATO in spite of the fact that 22 of the EU’s member countries are also NATO members. This duplication is not only wasteful but a serious distraction from the focus that needs to be kept on NATO and on national defence regeneration.

There may be some crisis situations where the United States, the cornerstone of NATO, would not want to get involved or where this involvement was inappropriate. This does not necessitate a role for the EU. There are many ways of delivering military effect, and none require involvement of the EU.

There may be a role for the EU to contribute in non-military areas of crisis management – through humanitarian aid, development assistance, supporting democratic institutions, and post-conflict reconstruction. However, its record even in these areas is very poor. After all, for all the billions spent there’s little to show in terms of stabilising those countries that are the prime sources of the current wave of migration.

As EU defence policy is primarily an instrument of political integration, it runs counter to our Conservative policy of EU reform and detachment from ‘ever closer union’. Let us not forget that Britain is one of two major military powers in Europe, with highly potent, globally deployable armed forces, a strategic nuclear deterrent, and major defence industries.

British military power, and the willingness to deploy it, coupled with strong defence industries, cannot be separated from wider questions of Britain’s prestige, economic well-being, and the confidence of friends and allies around the globe. The enormous political, strategic and economic relevance of defence is much underestimated. But one thing is clear – if we were to make the mistake of integrating our armed forces in the EU, then Britain’s independence of action and our role as a sovereign state would have ended.

Published: Tuesday 29 September 2015

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Photograph: Geoffrey Van Orden visiting one of our last remaining UK tank units in Germany © Copyright Geoffrey Van Orden MEP

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone.

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