Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Towards A European Army

Philippe Pétain would no doubt approve.

Via England Expects, it's interesting to read that German troops are advancing into France. Again.

France and Germany are expected to give details this weekend of an agreement to station hundreds of German troops on French soil for the first time since the second world war, in a region the countries have squabbled over for centuries.

Sacre Bleu!

It's no secret that the French and the Germans have been the keenest proponents of a European Army, with both countries periodically extolling the virtues of the plan. However, so far the powers of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) have been limited.

One of the major concerns that encouraged Ireland to vote no to the Lisbon Treaty was the fear of Irish men and women being conscripted, in the future, to a European Army. The EU, of course, were adamant that this wouldn't be the case.

Will the Treaty create a European army?

No. Military capabilities remain in national hands. The Treaty foresees that Member States can make available civilian and military resources to the Union for the implementation of its Common Security and Defence operations. However, any Member State has the right to oppose such operations and all contributions to them will be always on a voluntary basis.

A group of Member States who are willing and have the necessary capability will be able to undertake disarmament operations, humanitarian and rescue tasks, military advice and peace-keeping tasks. No Member State can be forced to participate in such operations.

That's not what Germany and France believe though. They have a different view.

In order to accelerate the integration process of Europe’s militaries, [German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter] Steinmeier is working with his French counterpart, Bernard Kouchner. These two countries have maintained a common German-French brigade since the early 1990s, which could serve as a sort of nucleus for a common European Army. If the Lisbon Treaty is ratified by the end of this year as planned, nations like Germany and France would have more freedom to establish such an army. Current plans call for an EU air transport command, a Ministerial Defense Council, and even an EU military academy.

So who is correct? Well, maybe both. As I understand it, the Lisbon Treaty is a self-amending document. In effect, as soon as it is ratified, the EU Commission can change it.

It's quite clear from the stance of the Franco-German brigade that they believe the prospect of a European Army is very much on the cards, and moves such as the deployment of troops to historically sensitive areas could be viewed by a cynic (I put my hand up) as an exercise in military PR.

The collaboration of EU forces to tackle Somalian pirates last year was also a significant step, with British approval, no less.

The European Union will today launch a British-led anti-piracy armada off the Horn of Africa in Europe's first joint naval operation.

Operation Atalanta, whose mission includes protecting ships taking food aid to Somalia, will be approved by EU foreign ministers in a move hailed by Britain and France as a significant step in Europe's nascent security and defence policy.

Not that surprising seeing as Defence Secretary John Hutton came out in full support of a European Army in October.

So, with Ireland being thrown amendments to help them to make the 'correct' decision on Lisbon, and many countries not even allowing us voters a say, it could be left to just the Czech Republic and Poland to block the treaty. And with it, it would seem, a standing army of joint European troops, first mooted at the Maastricht Treaty in 1993.

France and Germany central players? Poland a vital piece in the jigsaw? We've been here before, haven't we?

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