EU political union would need a real defence capability
by our secret columnist in Brussels
Political union and foreign policy are usually flanked by a defence capability and while the European Union has a collection of notional military assets on call, they are rarely activated. Our resident satirist Schadenfreude wonders if this will ever change, given the dominance of certain military member states
There is much talk about the need for the European Union to move on towards a 'political' union in order to give substance to authentically unitary economic and fiscal management. A political union would be more than economic. It would inherently possess other common policies. By treaty, the EU already has a Common Foreign Policy or CFP, the acronym shared with the Common Fisheries Policy. It has a foreign policy chief in Catherine Ashton and a diplomatic service. Its foreign ministers meet and pronounce, but it is all half-measure stuff.
Some member states like Ireland or Bulgaria do not have the luxury of a foreign policy and some, like Greece, have only one message. National foreign ministers do not want to lose the visibility they share with prime ministers and finance ministers - and high-profile opportunities to announce foreign policy objectives. Britain's collection of external policy aims includes more exports - including arms - and that could not be a shared EU objective. Everybody is content to let Ashton take the lead in the talks with Iran about its nuclear ambitions because everybody knows they are not going anywhere. The real action, as any fool knows, is with Israel's espionage agency and the deep cover body - probably in the United States - which puts cookies into Iranian computers.
Although it is now not considered correct to say that war is the continuation of diplomacy by other means, foreign policy is usually flanked by a defence capability. 'Defence' is a cosy word for having fighting men. The EU has a collection of military assets on call but they are rarely activated. It took over the closing stages of the operation in Bosnia Herzegovina in 2004. And there was loose talk about deploying in Georgia, when Russia invaded the county in 2008.
The EU Gendarmerie - a militarised police force - brings together France, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Romania. It is distantly based on the Schengen agreement on passport-free travel and border control. It is tasked for crisis management, the role more familiarly played out by the blue helmets of United Nations deployments. It has been involved in events in the Gaza Strip. It is hardly a major player.
In the UN Security Council - Britain and France, permanent members, usually manage to conceal any differences between them. In principle Ashton, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs can go to the security council and present a common European position. But it will be so bowdlerised that it will be listened to politely and then discussions will move on. Better for EU members of the security council to coordinate themselves.
When something of global importance happens, like the Arab Spring, the EU is sidelined. The member states want it that way. If there is ever a serious question about 'political union', much more than debts and deficits will become the cardinal issues. But it is not going to happen.
The Europeanisation of defence is coming soon
France is adamant about pushing the Common Security and Defence Policy to the top of the agenda through decisions made by the European Council, write Martin Michelot and Alexandra de Hoop Scheffer