Monsieur Juncker, an EU army could never be NATO.

On Monday, the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, surprised by a statement that the European Union should respond to the growing aggressiveness of Russia by uniting the military capabilities of its Member States based on the model of NATO. According to Juncker, a man dedicated to further integration of European countries, the EU can at this time no longer remain credible if we are not willing to make sure that we can protect our values by an armed force. Reactions of Member States were varied. But, can we imagine that one day there may be a future in which the European Union will be defended by soldiers with blue and gold flags on their uniforms? Perhaps. At the moment, when Putin’s Russia is increasingly flexing its muscles, and the Islamist regime  of Daesh is becoming increasingly widespread in the Middle East, it could be a right time for EU Member States to move forward and unite their troops under one roof.

One question remains, however. Would an EU army, modeled on NATO be the best solution?



The idea of ​​the President of the European Commission is not new and, in some cases, soldiers of EU Member States already join in operations under the European flag. It is however a kind of interesting acrobatics that President Juncker undertook with reviving the debate on the EU army in the time when Member States seem to have trouble agreeing on many less contentious issues, let alone military and security matters. The security of the country and its army are considered those areas that are most valuable for sovereign states and importantly determine their sense of identity and sovereignty.


The first proposals for a creation of a common defense in Western Europe was floated already in 1952, even before the signing of the Treaty of Rome, which established the European Economic Community. At that time, the Western countries are very aware of how valuable a common defence could be in case of an attack (probably expected from the East). This project was called the European Defence Community (EDC) and was supported also by the United States. However, this idea was never realized, mainly due to a polarized public opinion in France and Italy and the opposition of the Scandinavian countries. In addition, not even ten years after the end of World War II, Germany certainly hadn’t enjoyed the necessary level of confidence from the side of its Western European partners.

Eventually, the EU Member States slowly began to cooperate in the field of defence and the Article 24 (1) of the Treaty of Lisbon now provides that the Union shall have competence in the field of common foreign and security policy issues that touch the Union’s security, including a progressive framing of a common defence policy, which might lead to a common defence. The Article 42 (1) further points out that security and defence policy of the Union is formed on the basis of the existing capacities of the Member States and these capabilities can be used for missions outside the territory of the EU for the purposes of peacekeeping, conflict prevention and strengthening international security in line with the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations . But the most important article that President Juncker will wish to refer to is Article 42 (2), which states that the Union can establish its own defence policy, when the European Council so decides and when such a decision is confirmed (ratified) by all Member States.

On the basis of these (and previous similar) provisions of EU law, Member States are already involved in a number of missions, with the “Euroarmy” currently grouped under:

  • Eurofor, which combines capabilities of Spain, France, Italy and Portugal;
  • Eurocorps, which combines land armies of Germany, Belgium, Spain, France and Luxembourg;
  • Euromarfor that combines navies of Spain, France, Italy and Portugal;
  • European Air Group, which combines air forces of Germany, Belgium, Spain, France, Italy, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

Overview of the EU military and civilian capabilities currently operating in Europe, Africa and Asia.

CSDP Missions

More information on EU common security and defence policy can be found here.


Based on his statements and subsequent reactions of Member States, President Juncker probably had in mind a kind of an EU army modeled after the structure of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), where countries contribute to its capacities when it is needed, and then agree on the leadership of a mission under the command of one country. While it is true that the majority of EU Member States are also NATO members, some countries that are very active in NATO are not members of the EU, such as Turkey, Albania or the United States. An EU army would become a kind of an exclusive club only for the EU Member States, always bearing in mind that not all EU Member States would probably wish to join due to their international statuses, eg. neutrality of Austria or Denmark.

Is the NATO model then really the best way to proceed? It is true that the Lisbon Treaty in its Article 42 (7) provides for and obligation to provide assistance in the event of an attack on one of the Member States. Fortunately, no Member State has yet had to evoke this article. But what would have happened should this be the case? How much time would be needed for the European Council to adopt a decision? Would NATO react faster? Or maybe, just maybe, we could consider that the nation-state is no longer the only suitable actor for possession and management of military forces?

Despite my pacifist beliefs and with all due respect to President Juncker, I would in this case wish to argue that the creation of an EU army is only possible if we work towards creating a “real” army, with a real common command, which does not depend on unanimous decisions 28 (or more) Member States with 28 (or more) military traditions, capabilities and budgets. Firstly, because the creation of and EU army modeled on NATO is likely to trigger uncertainty in NATO itself (and probably mainly by US as its lead force), since such EU army could be percieved as direct competition, and EU Member States are likely to face a necessary choice of either actively participate in one or the other, due to current economic situation that might not allow for sufficient funds to finance both. The EU military cooperation might thereby become the choice of the club based on ad hoc benefits and political needs. And secondly, because EU is so much more than NATO. If we are really to continue our integration in the direction of creating communities where the war in the future is not only unthinkable but also physically impossible, we have to develop joint forces which will be able to defend us against potential threats from the outside, and at the same time protect us from ourselves. This policy and these capabilities should not be dependent on ad hoc unanimous decisions by Member States but will need to set a fast, efficient and modern security and defense policy.

In any case, an EU army is a project for the long-term future and will not be formed overnight. However, if we want to create something viable and efficient, we need to do it well and do it right. NATO can serve as a model, but certainly not the only model we should have in mind when embarking on such an important voyage.

Avtor: Špela Majcen Marušič

I am a Slovenian EU affairs analyst, proud member of the Charles Darwin promotion at the College of Europe with experience in the European Parliament and the UN Refugee Agency. I am a young mum to a clever and adorable baby girl and I believe that a kinder world can be created through cooperation and understanding. On Twitter as @SpelaMa on Instagram as @spela_ma.

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