So powerful and so potentially vulnerable, is it the time for European Union to form an army?

By Tommaso Monaco and Gabriele Mugnai

In a time of general crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have witnessed how, in front of a general reduction of GDP, the global military expenses have risen, as confirmed by a brand new report from SIPRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute). Isn’t it now the best moment for the European Union to re-discuss the issue of developing the”European Common Army” with better optimization of resources?

An old topic

The ‘European Common Army’ is a long-standing topic. The first intention to built it was expressed by France, with Jean Monnet, the General Commissioner of the French National Planning Board in 1950, and the proposal for the European Defense Community (EDC), a supranational entity in support of the creation of a European Army, under the authority of the European Defense Council, with shared equipment and budget. This project, supported by the majority of the European Western Countries, miserably failed because of the Treaty’s rejection from the French National Assembly. Western European countries’ protection was left in the hands of NATO, at least until the end of the Cold War and the birth of the European Union, when the debate on the need for significant integration and a joint army retook attention.

An issue that is becoming more and more “on fire.”

As we know, the European Union is renowned and appreciated because of its ability to exercise “soft power,” coming from its nature as a multilateral organization based on shared values and principles. However, not enjoying a single army could represent a significant obstacle to the Union’s evolution. Today, there is no natural alternative to NATO and the North American leadership. However, these vast international organizations have not always been shown to respond to the security threats that the European Union has faced in its neighborhood and not only. According to an investigation made by the United Nations in 2014 and updated in 2019 concerning the projections about the world’s future population and GDP growth, the European population will suffer from a substantial decrease by the year 2050 due to a meager birth rate.

Consequently, its GDP will grow in a smaller percentage than in some developing countries, especially India, China, and Indonesia. It could represent a tough challenge for the EU, and it seems clear that the need for the Union to have a standard and genuine European security policy could become an actual “vital” facet. Even in these last years, leading figures on the European political scene, such as the former President of the European Commission, Jean Claude Juncker, have moved in this direction. In 2015 he made a statement claiming that the EU should need its army for several reasons: to face up Russia and other threats; to restore the bloc’s standing around the world (in order to avoid wars between EU countries); to help Europe to form standard foreign and security policies, allowing the “old continent” to take on responsibility in the world. Another potentially crucial step was taken by the French “President de la Republique,” Emmanuel Macron, in November 2018; he called for a “real European army,” capable of defending itself from China, Russia, and even the US. These words provoked an adverse reaction in US President Donald Trump, who criticized the French idea of a European army as “very offensive” and “insulting” to its country. In the same month, German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, tried to act as a “gamechanger,” with a statement in which she followed the footsteps of her colleagues, arguing about the inefficiency of having more than 160 different defense frameworks currently all over the EU.

A big waste of money

Even with some exceptions like the EU battlegroups, small military units (about 1500 troops) employed in defense of the European Union, every Member State has its army with proper equipment. Although there are examples of standard development programs, such as the case of the Eurofighter Typhoon, these cases must be intended as multinational agreements between a few States (in the case of the Typhoon just UK, Germany, and Italy) and not as common European programs.


According to an IAI (Istituto Affari Internazionali) report, this fragmentation of R&D programs and the high number of types of military equipment (71 types in EU Member’s army against 23 types in the USA) is translated in a big waste of money and a lower efficiency of the defense budget. Concretely, in Europe we have three programs of development of last generation aircraft (Eurofighter, Gripen, Rafale) for a total amount of above ten billion of euros spent more in R&D than the same type of project for the US (F-35 aircraft). Another case of ‘duplication’ are the five projects to develop a new generation infantry kit: in the EU, we have four types of projects from Italy (Soldato Futuro), Germany (Infanterist der Zukunft), France (Fantassin à Équipements et Liaisons Intégrés) and Spain (COMbatiente FUTuro) for the same type of equipment. The same report estimates that Europe has between 10% and 15% efficiency compared with the US forces, and we would expect the same comparison between the two defense budgets. Here is the real problem: the EU-27’s are spending more or less the half of US budget for an efficiency which goes to 10-15% of the total percentage of the one US, bringing to light as a joint army would sharply cut the expenses with the benefit of greater investment efficiency.

Has the time finally come?

In sum, despite the concerns of the Member States for the loss of sovereignty, the creation of a joint army would entail. There are still many issues that need to be discussed: organization and governance of the army, which nations might join the army, the implementation of a framework that would structure the army. Thus, when the end of the COVID-19 pandemic allows us to breathe again, the European joint army notion will acquire even increased political salience and public support. The duty to protect and, at the same time, the necessity to defend Europe from possible future threats are tasks that the European Union must at all costs guarantee.Though, how these European missions would be credible without a “real” European army? Therefore, better act now before it is too late!