The EU does wish to supplement or even rival NATO, and does wish to work towards a European army, navy and airforce.
In their defence paper in July 2015 they called for “EU owned dual use capabilities and a proposal to explore how capability needs could best be fulfilled by assets directly purchased, owned and operated by the Union”. They have not got there fully yet, but the direction of travel is clear.
In the meantime The EU has created a naval force in the Mediteranean to pick up economic migrants and asylum seekers exposed to dangers at sea. It also has another naval force tackling piracy off the Horn of Africa.
The EU began by pooling iron and steel manufacture, then the sinews of war. It has moved on to some joint defence procurement, and to the creation of a defence and aerospace industry crossing frontiers to make member states interdependent in the production of weaponry.
The EU has created an EU defence force, with a rapid response army and a common command headquarters. The Eurocorps, called “a force for the EU” has a “permanent operational multinational structure capable of being deployed at very short notice” with up to 65,000 troops. At the core of it is a joint Franco German force. It has seen action in Bosnia, Kosovo and twice in Afghanistan. So far it has usually worked through NATO.
The UK has been wary of this emerging force, but has nonetheless gone along with various collaborative projects, especially with the French. The UK has also joined in various joint weapons and aircraft programmes. UK Ministers often have to argue against further EU involvement or control of military matters. Meanwhile our security is guaranteed by our own forces and by our membership of NATO. It is noteworthy that we belong to Five Eyes, the enduring and successful intelligence gathering and sharing alliance with the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand out side the EU.
The UK wishes to avoid the creation of an EU army and navy directly under the control of the EU where member states have no say in whether to participate or not. The NATO alliance is founded on the principle that each member state decides whether to back a NATO military intervention or not, and if so with how many personnel and with how much weaponry and supplies. The EU has a habit of moving from voluntary co-operation to legal requirements in other areas. The UK is keen to avoid a situation where British troops could be put in danger against the wishes of the UK people and Parliament.
About John Redwood
John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, He graduated from Magdalen College Oxford, has a DPhil and is a fellow of All Souls College. A businessman by background, he has been a director of NM Rothschild merchant bank and chairman of a quoted industrial PLC.
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