Defence minister: Britain ‘will oppose any idea of an EU army’

A Polish-operated, German manufactured Leopard MBT. Grafenwoehr Training Area, May 2016. [7th Army Training Command/Flickr]

The UK will oppose all EU plans for increased military cooperation that could interfere with NATO, despite being about to leave the union, Defence Minister Michael Fallon said Tuesday (27 September).

“We are going to continue to oppose any idea of an EU army or an EU army headquarters which would simply undermine NATO,” Fallon said at a meeting with his 27 counterparts in Bratislava, where European Union leaders earlier this month agreed to step up joint military efforts.

France and Germany made the case for the European Union’s most ambitious defence plan in almost two decades today, aiming to persuade sceptical eastern members and avoid a showdown with Britain over its military future outside the bloc.

Asked if Britain could veto the plans while it still remains a member of the European Union ahead of Brexit, Fallon said: “There is no majority here for a EU army.”

“There are a number of other countries who believe with us that cuts across the sovereignty of individual nation states,” he added.

Juncker: Soft power is not enough for the EU

In the State of the Union speech he delivered today (14 September), Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker proposed new powers for the EU foreign affairs chief, and the start of a real defence effort, compatible with NATO.

“We agree Europe needs to do more, it’s facing terrorism, it’s facing migration, but simply duplicating or undermining Nato is the wrong way to do it.”

EU leaders met without Britain in the Slovakian capital on 16 September to discuss plans to move forward in the wake of the stunning British vote to leave the bloc on 23 June.

They agreed on a six-month roadmap to create a new “vision” for the EU, including beefed up defence cooperation, which Britain has always opposed.

The proposals include increasing spending on military missions, jointly developing assets such as helicopters and drones, expanding peacekeeping abroad and building stronger defences against state-sponsored hackers in cyberspace.

Building on stop-start initiatives dating back to the late 1990s, the plans could strengthen the bloc’s ability to respond without the help of the United States to challenges on its borders, such as failing states or a more aggressive Russia.

Germany and France seek stronger EU defence after Brexit

Germany and France have outlined plans to deepen European military cooperation, a document showed on Monday (12 September), as Britain’s exit from the European Union removes one of the biggest obstacles to stronger EU defence in tandem with NATO.

European military spending is a fraction of the United States’ and only a handful of countries, including Britain, Estonia and Greece, spend generously on defence.

France is a major European military and Germany has many military assets but has traditionally been cautious given its history in the 20th century’s two world wars.

Britain, which retains full voting rights until it leaves the European Union, is adamant the plans must not weaken NATO and has some support from wary Poland and the Baltic nations.

Britain has blocked such plans for years, fearing a European army run from Brussels. France, which along with Britain is Europe’s main military power, now sees an opportunity to show leadership without London in the way.

But the political momentum could still stall. The EU also needs Britain, one of the few European nations able to lead large military missions, as a partner.

EU army? Much ado about nothing

The creation of a “European army” has appeared to some politicians as a realistic possibility, now that the UK can’t obstruct such a goal. Big statements have been made at high levels, but analysts question the substance behind the rhetoric. The EURACTIV network reports.

Fallon insisted however that Britain would continue to contribute to European defence as a member of NATO.

“We are leaving the European Union but we remain committed to the security of Europe and putting more troops into Estonia or Poland next year.”


The Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) replaces the former European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP). The Treaty of Lisbon introduces this name change by dedicating a new section in the founding treaties to this policy. The Treaty of Lisbon emphasises the importance and specific nature of the CSDP, which still forms an integral part of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP).

The Treaty of Lisbon contains a mutual defence clause, specifically binding EU member states. If a member state is the victim of an armed attack on its territory, it can rely on the aid and assistance of the other member states, which are obliged to help.

Two restrictions moderate this clause:

  • The mutual defence clause does not affect the security and defence policy of certain Member States, specifically those which are traditionally neutral;
  • The mutual defence clause does not affect the commitments made under the framework of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

There is still no European expenditure or European defence budget. The crisis in public spending induced cuts in national defence budgets. And as in the preceding Treaties, the CSDP remains a fundamentally intergovernmental issue.

The challenges created by shrinking defence budgets are aggravated by the fragmentation which leads to unnecessary duplication of capabilities, organisations and expenditures. Studies on the added value of EU spending show that by integrating European land forces, EU countries would be able to save substantial resources.

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