Screaming from The Guardian’s front page recently was a headline about comments from European Commission President, Jean-Claude Junker, concerning the need for a European army. The Guardian was not just trying to sell papers by leading with this story — its editors clearly realize that these seemingly armchair remarks made to a German Sunday newspaper (Welt am Sonntag) should not be taken lightly.
Taking Junker seriously
Why is that? Largely forgotten now, but one of the many hot issues surrounding ratification of the Lisbon Treaty in 2007-’08 was the fact that its Preamble and Article 42 explicitly provides for the creation of a “common defense” at the member states’ will.
The prospect of a European army was already a strong possibility in post-war Europe, and would have likely become a reality had the French Parliament not narrowly rejected the proposal in 1954.
The Lisbon Treaty made the idea of a European military very much active once again. Junker, meanwhile, has signaled his intention to make advances on it both through his comments and the publication of his ten point 2014-’19 agenda last October.
Another reason to take these comments seriously is that Commission President is by no means a nominal position. Just as with any prominent leadership role, its incumbents are concerned about legacy and the legacy of a Commission President is measured by just how much integration he or she manages to achieve when in office.
Jacques Delors stands out as the shining ideal — his charismatic integration activism being seen as indispensable in putting together the Single European Act in 1986 (helping to complete the single market) and the 1992 Maastricht Treaty (setting out a rigorous plan for monetary union).
Part of Junker’s desired legacy is undoubtedly deeper military integration.
Integration by stealth
Remarkably, as is characteristic of European integration history, these Treaty-based feats of international coordination followed a methodology of “integration by stealth” against the background of a “permissive consensus”. In other words, national and European elites were generally happy to commit Europeans to a supranational project without much by way of public debates and the citizens of most member states were largely content to let these elites be at their work.
Only in three countries holding referendums on Treaty ratification – Denmark and Ireland (Single European Act); Denmark, France, Ireland (Maastricht Treaty) – was there an engaged public debate on these Treaties that have shaped Europe’s collective future.
Since that time, the EU has become a somewhat more visible and contested actor. The politicisation that came with the failure of the Constitutional Treaty in 2004 and the controversial ratification of the Lisbon Treaty thereafter, along with the prominent role of European institutions during the Euro-crisis, has finally made clear to the popular imagination just how powerful and important the EU has become.
Despite this politicisation, through which many citizens appear no longer willing to grant the integration trajectory a permissive consensus, the methodology of integration by stealth does not seem to have been adjusted.
For some time the EU has had a Common Security and Defence policy, which received a shot in the arm by the Lisbon Treaty, not only by including provisions for the formation of a European army as above but also by creating an External Action Service and High Representative for Foreign affairs (also a member of the Commission).
As the Euro-crisis unfolded, consuming all EU-related media attention, these newly established actors have been quietly paving the way for deeper integration in defence and security.
A European army would differ from existing international military cooperation (e.g. NATO) in that it will form an integrated singular military force, not just coordination between national armies. This move would empower the Commission, the closest thing the EU has to an executive arm, responsible as it is for initiating legislation and coordinating policy areas among the many hands through which legislation passes and is implemented.
Whatever the merits and demerits of a European army, its very real prospect raises serious concerns for democracy and the future of Europe. The idea of a European military has not been debated by nor found support among the peoples of Europe. This is an especially black mark on the supposedly improved democratic credentials of the Commission.
Junker’s appointment to his present position in 2014 was the first time the office of Commission President was directly linked to the outcome of elections to the European Parliament. He was the nominated electoral candidate of the European People’s Party, which won the largest share of seats in the most recent elections.
Boldly, Junker claimed a mandate from the European people, despite the fact that most people had not even heard of him. In the European People’s Party electoral manifesto consisting of four pages we find some short paragraphs which, at a stretch, could be interpreted as gesturing towards a European army.
Vague language about an EU that “tackles the big issues together” and boosting Europe’s “Foreign, Security and Defense capabilities” is the most we get. That such a policy platform provides a mandate for anything specific, let alone the pursuit of such a massive integration step as a common military force, is unconvincing to say the least.
The fact that deeper integration is still very much at the forefront of elite EU minds indicates just how far out of touch (or unconcerned with) they are with popular attitudes that have developed in the last couple of years.
How the Eurozone debt crisis was managed, undermining national democratic and economic sovereignty in Greece, Italy and Ireland (among others), has provoked a number of resentments that should be enough to put any prospects of deeper integration on hold until the issues motivating this bad blood are resolved.
These resentments can be summed up as a) dissatisfaction with the technocratic nature of European democracy; b) the clear emergence of Germany as the real decision-maker in Europe; and c) the mutual resentment of debtor and creditor states towards one another, both feeling unsatisfied with what each expects of the other.
Legitimate questions arise from this situation. If Europeans do not have the solidarity to cope with crises arising from current levels of integration, on what basis can we say that integration on such a sensitive area as defense would fare much better?
Would a European military not just become an extension of the German will, at least in times of crisis, much like the European Central Bank and even the Commission itself appears to have become during the ongoing Euro crisis?
The disintegration of Europe
Ironically, Junker’s words about military integration run the risk of having disintegrative effects. Such talk only helps to fuel the rhetoric of political parties that may be seen as belonging to the darker side of democratic life. The right-wing populist United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), for example, have had a field day with Junker’s comments.
For a citizenry like we find in the UK — already sensitive to the loss of sovereignty necessitated by European integration and edging towards the exit door as its Prime Minister David Cameron tries to negotiate a less integrated Europe before a proposed “in/out” referendum in 2017 — the idea of a European military is a non-starter.
Standing against UK membership of the EU, UKIP have been able to consistently use the EU’s lack of democratic legitimacy as a narrative construction in pursuing an illiberal policy platform. As the narrative goes, “the unelected technocrats of Europe are opening the door to criminals and unwanted migrants from within and beyond the EU. And the only way of taking back our borders is to take back our democracy. This means Brexit.”
To this narrative add the idea of a prospective European military and the sympathies of any UK citizen even remotely responsive to UKIP rhetoric will surely deepen in this direction.
Abolishing the permissive consensus
There is nothing constructive about Junker’s comments and the silent manner in which European integration proceeds, in the area of defence and security and beyond, is an affront to any conception of good democratic practice.
The only legitimate way forward for the EU is its democratization. And it is this that should be the European peoples’ non-negotiable condition for the prospect of any further integration projects.
The permissive consensus, which has surely been damaged in recent times, has not been destroyed. What remains of it is not serving Europeans well and must be eliminated entirely.
It is not the outcome of a genuine international democratic debate that should concerns us for the moment — for/against a European army, for/against the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, and so on — but guaranteeing that such a debate is had in the first place.
As it stands, Europeans will not have a choice about these or many other subjects.
Source URL — https://roarmag.org/essays/juncker-european-army-democracy/