European Army or Permanent Structured Coalition ?

Talking of a “European Army” is a way of tackling a complex international issue and an attempt to express in simple language the measures that the EU could  take to be fully able to shoulder responsibility for the defence of its strategic interests, and particularly of its territory and people. Source : ESDU Vol. 32.

To enable our continent to assume responsibility for its own destiny,

European Army or Permanent Structured Coalition ?

by General Jacques Favin Lévêque (ret)EuroDéfense France, Versailles.

This paper was published in English in the last issue of The Euopean Security and Defense Union and in French by the ASAF (Association de soutien à l'Armée française)

At a time when President Macron and Chancellor Merkel, as well as President Junker previously, have broached the subject of a future common defence thanks to a “European Army”, others are advocating more pragmatic step-by-step developments, building on the prospects opened up by “major steps” taken in this area in the recent past. The main purpose of such remarks by these political leaders is undoubtedly to demystify the issues at stake, which have often been subject to fantasy and preconceived ideas. As they impinge on the sovereignty and identity of Member States, they are complex issues and do not therefore surface very often in public debate.

No operational reality

This being said, talking of a “European Army” is only one simple and graphic way of responding to the wishes regularly expressed by European Union citizens in the Eurobarometers. It is a way of tackling a complex international issue and an attempt to express in simple language the measures that the EU could take to be fully able to shoulder responsibility for the defence of its strategic interests, and particularly of its territory and people.

“The idea of a European army is predicated on the idea of Europe being a political power with all the attributes of a federal state.”

Everybody realises however that at a time when the European Union is unsettled by the current resurgence of nationalism here and there, as well as the diversity of strategic approaches, it is impossible to give any operational reality to whatever dream people may have of merging Member States’ armed forces and integrating them into a single army.

In addition, and more importantly, the idea of a European army is predicated on the idea of Europe being a political power with all the attributes of a federal state. General Charles de Gaullein his time, dismissed such an idea in the following terms: “For there to be such a thing as a European army, in other words an army of Europe, Europe itself would have to exist as a political economic financial, administrative and, above all, moral entity. It would need to be a sufficiently thriving, established and recognised entity to be able to generate the instinctive loyalty of its subjects and pursue its own policies so that, if necessary, men would be prepared to die for it in their millions! Is that the case? No serious person could dare answer yes!” (February 1953).

How to build up a European defence

In reality, the policy initiated by Member States through the European Council starts from the current concept of European defence, confined to external operations. It does however lay the foundations of an autonomous European defence, the first step of which would follow from the decisions taken since the summer of 2017.

PESCO: The first of these is a Structured Permanent Coopera- tion (PESCO), a somewhat arcane and technocratic sounding name but which henceforth opens up significant possibilities for cooperation among EU Member  States in the area of defence capability and to a lesser extent – at least for the time being – in the area of operations.

EI2: Then there is the European Intervention Initiative (EI2) launched by France in 2018 in order to conduct a more detailed analysis, together with the 10 current partner countries,  of the geopolitical and geostrategic conditions necessary for joint operational engagement.

EDF: Finally, the European Commission has decided to establish a European Defence Fund, potentially able to finance a large portion of defence R&T spending and contribute to the development funding of common weapons programmes.

These promising initiatives, even though tangible results are not yet visible, could become the building blocks of a Europe- an defence policy that would go beyond the current Common Security and Defence Policy and the Petersberg missions so as to fully assume the defence of EU territory, currently – accord- ing to the terms of the Washington treaty – under the umbrella of NATO.

Strategic autonomy in defence and security


It is true of course that dependence on the United States is still firmly rooted in the culture of many Member States, particu- larly in Eastern Europe and the Baltic Republics. The shifts in Euro-American relations that were perceptible under President Obama and have been further accentuated under President Trump, undermine mutual trust, probably for ever. It is no longer therefore just a wild dream to envisage a European de- fence that would be autonomous in the medium term and even sovereign in the longer term. Indeed, the quest for strategic autonomy in Defence and Security is already the European Union’s stated objective. To achieve such a goal in concrete terms, why not revisit the traditional concept of a “coalition” and make it permanent? In other words, establish a “Perma- nent Structured Coalition” of Member States of the European Union. This coalition would have to be enshrined in a Treaty signed in a European capital and then taking the name of the city. But why not call it the “Strasbourg” Treaty, to symbolise European unity on both sides of the Rhine? Such an alliance of countries in the coalition could take a leaf out of the Atlantic Alliance’s book and set up a kind of European NATO as its military arm. Like the Washington Treaty, it would have its Article 5, reflecting the solidarity of the treaty parties in their collective defence. Indeed, Article 42-7 of the Treaty of the European Union already goes a long way towards expressing this solidarity. Only the second paragraph would have to be amended in order to give the EU full responsibility for the defence of its own territory, with due regard for the Atlantic Alliance.

In this way, the sovereign member nations of the European Union would decide to form an institutionalised and permanent coalition and organise their common defence through a politico-military structure that would include the PESCO, the EDA, a permanent  HQ and the Eurocorps, thus bringing together existing entities within the EU.

All for one and one for all

It took almost 10 years for the European Council to acknowledge and adopt the concept of PESCO. Why not aim, by 2025, to gather the signatures of the 27 Member States of the Euro- pean Union under a future Treaty of Strasbourg? This would enable a European Permanent Structured Coalition to shoulder responsibility for our continent’s destiny: “all for one and one for all” would then become the motto for the defence of Europe, united in diversity but above all, in adversity!

(*) Gen (ret) Jacques Favin Lévêque graduated from the French Polytechnique University and then was an officer of the Corps of engineers. During the Cold War he served in the 2nd French Corps in Germany. Then he was assigned at the Army Staff and the Armament Directory of the French MoD before becoming the Director General of GICAT, the French industrial association. General Favin Lévêque is a very active member of the Board of EuroDéfense France.

See also :

Libre opinion du général (2s) Jacques Favin Lévêque : Enfin du concret pour la Défense européenne ! (Source ASAF)