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The idea of a European Army is once again making headlines. Late December, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble proposed that the EU must have a common military instead of 28 national armies, and insisted the bloc should engage more to tackle Middle Eastern and African crises. "In the end, our goal must be a common European Army," he said.
The proposal, whose other notable proponents include ex-U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair, is one of several suggestions geared toward countering the rise of major global powers such as India and China while maintaining British relevance in the process.
Rt.com reported Blair's comments as published in Newsweek magazine. He stated that Britain should be part of the proposed EU army and stay in the union despite the efforts of backwards-looking Euro-skeptics to withdraw.
Blair further argued that there has never been a stronger need for European unity, on defense and elsewhere and that the EU must bind together and ignore those who are "forever looking backward to break the union asunder." He added that smaller countries which have a population of below 100 million would be wise to rely on their "geographical relationships" to stay ahead of the game part of which involves a Pan-European defense force.
With regard to how an EU army would impact on the existing roles of NATO, Blair stated: "That force would not supplant NATO but would have the independent ability to take military action at times when Europe's security interests are threatened when the US may decide not to be involved".
Critics of the EU army proposal loudly disagree with it. According to UK Independence Party (UKIP) defense spokesman and Euro-skeptic Mike Hookem: "If you look at other parts of the EU, they soon become bloated, unwieldy and heavily bureaucratic institutions and I have little doubt that an EU army would go the same way".
UKIP chief Nigel Farage in comments carried by Breitbart.com criticized British PM David Camerons apparent "fiddling" while the EU "plans a massive power-grab". Farage made reference to a working document reportedly supported by Angela Merkel, which includes a wide-ranging set of proposed EU goals such as:
" The removal of all national vetoes at European Council level;
" A more binding framework for economic policy coordination;
" A fiscal union with a common Corporate Tax base and VAT system where the EU is funded by VAT raising powers, and a financial transaction tax;
" A banking and a capital markets union;
" A European Energy agency to make sure there is no competition for cheaper energy;
" The strengthening of EU Border Agency, Frontex which is also to be given the ability to enter states without being asked;
" The move towards a common EU army, and the creation of a permanent military operational headquarters;
" To see an increasing use of EU military battle groups as an initial entry force to enhance the EUs defense capabilities.
" A Pan-EU political party system with only Pan-European political parties running in the European elections.
Farage concluded: "This EU project is heading in one direction: towards greater centralization of power in Brussels... only by winning the referendum and leaving the EU can we ensure that we become a self-governing, independent nation".
Calls for a United Europe complete with its own army are hardly new and have been gaining traction since the days of Winston Churchill. According to Adriel Kasonta for the National Interest.org, the European Commission chief in March of 2015 called for the creation of an "EU joint army" that would "react credibly" to any external threat and defend the bloc's undefined "values."
"An army like this would help us to better coordinate our foreign and defense policies, and to collectively take on Europe's responsibilities in the world.. a joint EU army would show the world that there would never again be a war between EU countries, said President Jean-Claude Juncker in an interview with Germany's Welt am Sonntag newspaper.
Right along with the opportunities, however, challenges abound as well. For one, the EU is unlikely to speak with one voice due to different approaches, priorities and security interests, which include the fear of a diminished NATO role, among other reasons. The top concern seems to remain the loss of national sovereignty as currently exercised by each EU country over its respective armies.
Kasonta explains that, instead, all member states would have to reach an agreement by unanimity, or a decision would have to be made by a qualified majority vote; a long decision process could end up weakening a common EU force and limiting its effectiveness.
Nevertheless, the EU army idea seems to be unstoppable, but what is unclear is what form it will eventually take. Will it supersede NATO? Will it form a combined alliance with the United Nations or embrace new EU members and their armies? It all remains to be seen and its potential prophetic relevance should prove interesting to watch in the days ahead.