Non-existence of a European strategy: Act 1. In April 2008, at the NATO summit in Bucharest, France and Germany opposed the integration of Georgia into NATO. A few months later, the Russian army invaded South Ossetia and marched towards Tbilisi, the Georgian capital. The offensive stopped suddenly.
Was it the result of the (some would say late) intervention of Nicolas Sarkozy, President of the EU at the time, or the consequence of a previous effort of American diplomacy? The question remains unanswered. Nevertheless, by recognizing the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the Russian authorities carried out the integration/annexation of these two territories under another guise.
Shortly after that, in 2011, President Sarkozy – in spite of insistent warnings 1 – decided to sell two Mistral-class assault carriers to Russia.
Act 2. In 2011, the intervention in Libya highlighted the shortcomings of the British and French armies, which depended on NATO for intelligence and ammunition supply, while the tragic subsequent development of the political situation showed the limits of an “above ground” intervention without the possibility of overseeing the country’s political and institutional reconstruction.
Act 3. The situation in Syria is a complete disaster. 170,000 dead, over 2 million displaced people, thousands of out-of-control fighters… Clearly, the situation is mostly due to the unconditional support of Russia and Iran, but also to the lack of commitment shown by the USA and the EU who chose to focus on a nuclear agreement with Iran – it is hard to imagine, especially after Russia’s violation of the Budapest memorandum on Ukraine’s nuclear disarmament and with growing ties between Russia and Iran, how such an agreement could ever be signed or enforced.
Act 4. With the invasion and annexation of Crimea and the large-scale destabilization of Eastern Ukraine by Russia, things have moved one step further. What we are witnessing – again – is not only a State (which happens to be a member of the Security Council) using violence to seize another’s territories within Europe, but also the unveiling of a radically anti-democratic State project whose threat to the Russian people and the security of all Europeans is largely underestimated by the EU.
Six long months and the tragedy of Flight MH 17 were necessary before the European authorities finally realised the strategic reality of the threat that the Russian regime and its policy in Ukraine represent and voted serious (but not sufficient) economic sanctions against Russia.
Regarding the EU energy policy, the European Council were expected to make major decisions last June but nothing has happened to date. Concerning the security and the present and future defence of the EU, there have been very few new ideas (let alone decision-making). Only some minor supplication (towards the US) and hollow words.
François Hollande declared: “France has every reason to wish for a stronger German presence on the international scene. We do not intend to act alone. I am in favour of sharing responsibilities on political, military and budgetary levels 2”.
European defence, hic Rhodus, hic salta
If the French President was truly convinced of this, France should make a concrete proposal. For two main reasons: the weight of Germany’s past and, more importantly, the long list of proposals that have been ignored.
Security and defence are closely linked to the issue of European political integration, and it is an issue in which France has been a remarkably consistent stumbling block to any political development (as Bernard Barthalay, chairman of the Puissance Europe / Weltmacht Europa network, has noted).
See for example: “the rejection of European Defence Community project (1954), which led to the failure of a political community, the Gaullist rejection of a “federal” budget (1965), the contempt shown towards the Schaüble-Lamers Paper (1994), the Chirac-Jospin administration’s fears of Fischer’s “federation” proposal (2000) 3 …”
In order to be accepted by Germany, such a proposal would have to be made to all non-neutral EU States and allow all States willing to join – whether “small” or “large” – to find their place. In this respect, only a double majority voting system (majority of States and majority of citizens) 4 with the European Commission in charge of a common policy could provide all partners involved with sufficient assurances.
Would France get its share? Here are a few figures – if 19 States 5 were to decide to participate in the creation of a common European army on the basis of the new regulations of the Lisbon Treaty, the Council majority necessary to pass the European Commission’s proposal would be a minimum of 11 States (55%) with 253 million inhabitants (65% of European citizens).
In other words, the blocking minority would be made up of either 9 States or a number of States (at least 3) with at least 137 million people. For example, Germany, France and another country could veto a decision they would deem inappropriate. These figures should reassure France, especially as experience has shown that giving up unanimous decision-making never led to isolating any one State, but, on the contrary, had the advantage of dissipating opposition instincts.
The Mistrals should be for Europe
Arguably, only the above scenario would bring about a politically responsible answer to France’s sale of Mistral warships to Russia. France would cancel the sale while any member-State wishing to do so would opt for increased cooperation 6 aiming at the creation of two air and sea groups, based on the two Mistral ships at first, as well as the creation of two rapid intervention brigades ready to deploy from these ships.
If the British, who for internal political reasons do not seem ready for such an initiative, were to oppose the project, any States that were willing to do so could proceed independently of Treaties as was the case with the Schengen Agreement.
I wish to make it clear that such a proposal has nothing to do with bilateral initiatives such as the Franco-German brigade or multilateral initiatives like Eurocorps. It concerns neither national armies, nor nuclear deterrence forces, nor NATO participation but the creation of the first core of a common European army made up of European soldiers (as opposed to national contingents), managed by community institutions, with its own commandment hierarchy, a common working language (English), its own military academy and its own intelligence services.
Over the past few years, the large number of international crises has shown the necessity for Europe to equip itself with such a tool. But the annexation of Crimea and the organised destabilisation of Eastern Ukraine leave no doubts about the true nature of the Russian regime and the threat it represents to the security of the European population. The EU should change its strategic paradigm. The creation of a defence organisation would seem to be the first – necessary as well as urgent – step in this direction.
- Mostly from philosopher André Glucksmann ↩
- “Les doléances de François Hollande à Angela Merkel”, Le Monde, 4 August 2014 ↩
- Bernard Barthalay, “Un condominium des Etats de la zone euro ? Est-ce bien raisonnable ?”, 12 February 2014, http://blog.slate.fr/europe-27etc/14737/un-condominium-des-etats-de-la-zone-euro-est-ce-bien-raisonnable/ ↩
- Lisbon Treaty ↩
- Germany, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Croatia, Spain, Estonia, France, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxemburg, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia ↩
- Article 329 of the Treaty ↩