Even the strongest soft powers need defence capacities sometimes. This was not the highlight of the politically-oriented “growth and jobs” guidelines of Jean-Claude Juncker’s campaign for the European Commission presidency in the summer of 2014 though.
But following the UK referendum, with Donald Trump looming, amid a worsening security environment around the EU, Juncker realised in September that it was time to take EU defence to the next level.
This week, Juncker came to Prague with a keynote address for a conference in which EU foreign and defence ministers shared their ideas on common defence and security policy.
They are meeting in a member state where many people associate the European Union with wasting money, bureaucracy and inadequate border controls.
In a country with impressive economic productivity and a record low unemployment rate, “growth and jobs” is not a message to be sold but something to be preserved.
There are not many EU topics that could be discussed substantially and with a positive outcome in the Czech Republic.
“Joining the eurozone or not” could be one of them but the main political parties will not agree on this.
What remains is defence and security, which enjoys the support of Czech public opinion much more than other common policy concerns.
Czechs are not the only ones. Across Europe, defence and security is perceived as the field where the Union could bring more added value than it has so far.
Strengthening them could kill more birds with one stone – protect the bloc, deepen EU integration, restore citizen trust and help tackle unwanted immigration.
But things must be clear. When Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said last summer that the EU needs a “common army”, few among the country’s Atlanticists and military officials knew what he actually meant.
For politicians and laymen, it may be difficult to understand that military capability and the will to cooperate on security matters differs from the expectations of those who support more substantial action.
As it evolves, a significant part of the current debate will be about how to use existing resources and capacities effectively. This may go unnoticed by the broader public but remains a crucial issue, particularly to less affluent EU countries.
Worse, the initiative may run into problems that the Union is well acquainted with: member states worried about preserving their national sovereignty and protecting their own (defence, this time) industries.
Those who do not love or understand the EU would otherwise understood this as just another failure of the “Brussels elite” looking for a new way to reinvigorate its legitimacy.
The Inside Track
Poland means disappointment. Under PiS Chairman Jarosław Kaczyński, the country is turning away from the EU’s liberal-democratic values the Poles so painstakingly won in 1989, writes Gazeta Wyborcza’s Martin Mycielski.
And they denounce multiculturalism. Thousands of Slovaks rallied in Bratislava on Monday to protest against corruption and demand the resignation of the interior minister over his ties with a developer under investigation for tax fraud. If only they were as sensitive about diversity.
Crisis of Westernisation. Moldova is deeply divided between pro-European and pro-Russian forces. In an interview with EURACTIV Slovakia, its foreign minister insisted the EU remains the only option.
Mushroom clouds are nice. The Commission’s Clean Energy proposal will lead to a price increase for households, Andrea Beatrix Kádár of the Hungarian Ministry of Development told EURACTIV Slovakia.
Optimism in short supply. Sigmar Gabriel hopes his new Berlin Plus plan will receive a warm welcome. Intended to dispel fears in the Western Balkans that the Union is preoccupied with domestic crises, Belgrade worries that Berlin Plus is an excuse to leave Serbia in the “EU waiting room”.
Peace through capitalism. The European Union hopes six Balkan countries will agree at a summit on 12 July in Italy to create a regional common market that could be working within a year, a top EU official said on Tuesday, in the bloc’s latest step to re-engage the region.
The baklava is getting better. Macedonia’s new prime minister has signalled a possible shift in the country’s relations with neighbouring Greece, which has blocked Skopje’s efforts to join the EU and NATO. Could Macedonia finally be coming in from the cold?
Wouldn’t resist a Russian invasion. The idea of creating a powerful EU army continues to divide opinion in neutral Austria. Critics of the plan say its neutrality is incompatible with joint military cooperation. Echoes of the country’s unpleasant 20th century history are growing louder.
First 5 Star government. Italy’s Constitutional Affairs Committee this week signed off on a new electoral law after the main parties reached a deal which could pave the way to a national election in the autumn. Beppe Grillo’s mixed right/left populist party stands to be the only immediate beneficiary.
Censorship is not enough. Facebook and YouTube are upping their fight against hate content. However, almost every other hate post is targeted against Muslims or migrants, and every tenth against Jews. Aktuálně reports.
Anti-racist but pro-Brexit? “I would like to see a deal where we couldn’t perceive the UK or the EU as winners or losers. Where the UK is no longer a reluctant tenant of the EU but we are good neighbours,” ECR chief Syed Kamall told EURACTIV Poland.