French President Macron has, with his speech in the Sorbonne University on 26.9.2017, mentioned some aspects on Europe which, because of the scope of the subject, have been somehow neglected in other EU countries but merit to be discussed in a broader sense. One of them was European defense policy. There are indeed two axes we have to follow in this respect: one is the permanent attempt of withdrawal of the United States, despite some NATO displays in the Baltic region and Eastern Europe, and another is terrorism in all its facets. It is evident that the EU – and not the Member States – has to fight the financing of terrorism and of terrorist cyber propaganda. Some Member States do not take part in these activities, not because they are close to terrorism – no, they are too nationalistic to cede necessary competences to the EU.
The objective of Macron in the field of defense was and is to create a Europe of defense which is able to act on its own behalf, if necessary, and thus completing NATO. Macron spoke of „progress of historical dimensions“ within the last months; indeed things are developing positively since Great Britain is not taken too serious any more, because of Brexit. UK has of course strong, experienced armed forces, but not the will to enhance a Common Defense Policy of the EU, although any one of its Member States would be too weak to do it alone. And NATO might be not proactive enough, with a US President who first had denied Art. 5 NATO Agreement (the solidarity clause) and with Turkey permanently moving away from NATO. What remains is the EU alone – one has to see this clearly.
Only in June 2017 the European Defense Fund had been created, for a permanent cooperation, for a financing of defense research. above all – we have more than a dozen different guns in the EU, and a myriad of fighter planes, double capacities in navy vessels etc. A lot of money could be spent in defense policy. With this fund it will be like the Schengen Agreement: This was launched by five Member States only, and a couple of years later it became a part of the Amsterdam Treaty for the whole EU.
Macron has also proposed a „common strategic defense culture“ The EU has not been able to act together in a convincing way. Macron sees traditional differences in cultural, historical, parliamentary and general political issues. Indeed, this won’t be changed from one day to the next, but if you don’t tackle this problem the EU would never have a common defense policy.
Macron also proposed a common defense budget for the EU. This could include all the budgets of the Member states plus the one of the EU (which until now is rather small, of course). At first, this does not need a formal approval power of the EU institutions above Member States‘ defense budgets. But a permanent synopsis will create a permanent discussion about the 2% target, about efficiency or inefficiency, about common purchases etc.
This might be a very realistic point of Macron’s speech. Starting informally with a kind of declaratory new budget part in the EU, which may even lie to ist biggest part outide of the EU institutions, is a first step which may be completed later. In the sense of what Ursula von der Leyen, German Minister of Defense, had said, namely that a European Army cannot come overnight but in very many small steps.
In this context, Macron had also proposed – and promised for the own French armed forces – to include into all the Member States‘ armies people from the other Member States. This should be done not according to citizenship but to the country where Europeans live (and to more than basic lanuage knowledge, evidently). This element of a common defense culture should come to reality at the beginning of the next decade – like then in a EU-wide common attempt of intelligence. To bridge the gap between European vision and reality in this respect, he advocated a European Academy of Intelligence. Of course, this is necessary, if you see how the existing mini-structures are treated by most of the Member States.
We need some courage – like the French President – to propose a nucleus of policies which may then become larger and larger. European defense policy is one of them – for defense policy reasons, but also for spending the necessary money, and not more. And of course for the most noble task of armed forces in Europe: to exist in order to be never deployed for their historical purposes.