In all of the excitement after the (not particularly) shocking election of Jeremy Corbyn to the Labour leadership, one story that caught my eye has slipped under the radar of most of Westminster. The Daily Telegraph reported on Saturday that Angela Merkel is expecting David Cameron to drop his opposition to a proposed EU Army in exchange for her support of Mr. Cameron’s renegotiation. A source in Berlin reportedly told The Telegraph that Frau Merkel would seek this “favour” from Mr. Cameron as leverage for her support, saying “If you want favours, you have to give favours,”
“If Cameron wants a ‘flexible Europe’, he must let other members integrate further. Yes – opt out, opt out, opt out – and then shut up.”
A unified EU Armed Forces has long been a goal of Euro-federalists. My view, and the view of many others here in Britain, is that such an arrangement dangerously undermines national sovereignty and takes us yet closer to a single pan-European state. It also severely undermines the role of NATO as the guarantor of security in Europe, which is now more important than ever given Vladimir Putin’s territorial ambitions in Eastern and Central Europe. I contend that it was indecision by EU diplomats that led to the West’s woeful response to the recent crisis in the Crimea; if the EU, and not NATO, were to be the major military player in the region, who knows how far Putin’s Russia would try to push?
Now personally, I think that the PM should tell Merkel where to go with her “favour”. In any case, the current refugee crisis is likely to deliver reforms to Freedom of Movement, one of Cameron’s major demands, without HMG’s renegotiation team needing to lift a finger. However, one problem that immediately presents itself to me is what will happen in the event of a Brexit: if Britain, the only real source of opposition to an EU Army, is to leave the EU, what is to stop the EU from going ahead? This in turn brings up a new question about the consequences of Brexit: if the country votes to leave, is the foundation of an EU army a price that eurosceptics are willing to pay?
Another angle is that of the Special Relationship: The Telegraph article carries quotes from Frances Burwell, the vice-president of the US think-tank Atlantic Council, which suggest that, should Britain opt-out of an EU Army, we would likely see “a downgrading” of the Special Relationship. The Telegraph also raised concerns from Geoffrey van Orden MEP, a retired Brigadier, that the EU would form a “powerful caucus within NATO”, leading to the US concluding that “[the UK] no longer had any influence on the continent”.
Some, however, are not convinced by the threat posed to the Special Relationship by an EU Army. Journalist Ned Donovan, who runs the Defence for Dummies blog, said “A Pan-European army has been a pipe dream of the Germans and French for decades. Not only is it unlikely to actually become anything substantial, it will do little to weaken the special relationship.”
“The US would always be more willing to lean towards the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. With shared training and equipment, exchanged officers and a common language, the strategic advantages are too much to ignore.”
In any case, this all seems to be speculation; the Government did not comment specifically on the Telegraph story. But, as we’ve seen, it raises important questions about Britain’s place in the world if a Brexit were to occur. Whilst I remain opposed to the idea of a European army, it does seem more likely to happen if the UK is to leave the EU. My instinct is that, even if an EU army were to be founded post-Brexit, the fears about a downgrading of the Special Relationship are ill-founded: as well as the similarities in doctrine and our shared language, British Foreign Policy is much more aligned with that of the US than other EU states.
The existence of the “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing organisation also leads me to believe that the UK and the former dominions Australia, Canada, and New Zealand will remain trusted defence partners for the US for a long time to come. Even with an EU force, we would remain senior players in NATO, and so will retain our responsibility to uphold peace on the Continent. David Cameron should show strength here, and refuse to grant this favour to the Germans. We hold a strong negotiating position, and we do not need to give away “favours” in order to secure the reforms that the EU desperately needs.