The top candidates to lead the next EU Commission clashed on plans to create an EU army at a debate in the European University Institute in Florence last week. The German centre-right candidate, Manfred Weber, and Belgian liberal one, Guy Verhofstadt, endorsed the idea, but the Dutch centre-left candidate, Frans Timmermans, rejected it as being unrealistic. “There will be no EU army for the foreseeable future,” Timmermans said – though significantly, he didn’t deny that there were plans in train.
Some of the sharpest clashes between the candidates were on the question of whether the EU should aspire to develop an army — with Verhofstadt and Weber generally in favour, and Timmermans and Keller expressing some scepticism regarding the timetable.
“European army!” Verhofstadt declared after expressing his agreement with Weber that there should be an EU version of the FBI.
“The biggest waste of money in the European Union is the military, the way we organize it,” Verhofstadt said. “We spend nearly half of the Americans. We spend three times more than the Russians on military in Europe, but I am not sure if the Russians come this way that we are capable to stop them. A European army of 20,000 people in 2024. Let’s do it.”
Military spending – SIPRI link
Timmermans disagreed with the FBI proposal, and was especially dismissive of talk of an EU army. “Don’t overpromise,” he said. “There is not going to be a European army anytime soon.” Weber jumped in on Verhofstadt’s side. “We should have great ambitions,” he said,
Again and again the target of 2024-5 has been cited for the establishment of an EU Army. “By 2025 we need a fully-fledged European Defence Union. We need it. And NATO wants it” (Juncker’s ‘State of the Union’ speech 2017) or the recent statement by EU Commissioner Violeta Bulc, that military mobility was a new topic in the EU as the bloc was gearing towards a fully-fledged defence union – that’s an EU Army – by 2025!
There isn’t much time left during which to stop our government signing up or ensuring that it opposes its formation – that’s if the veto in military matters is retained in the face of recent demands for its abolition.
There was a common denominator, however: All candidates agreed more powers had to be transferred to the EU Commission and Parliament, and less to the Council, where member states are represented.