[This article is much longer and more detailed than below with a lengthy appendix with useful information in this link above]
European leaders are discussing "far-reaching proposals" to build a pan-European military, according to a French defense ministry document leaked to the German newspaper, the Süddeutsche Zeitung.
The efforts are part of plans to relaunch the European Union at celebrations in Rome next March marking the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, which established the European Community.
The document confirms rumors that European officials are rushing ahead with defense integration now that Britain — the leading military power in Europe — will be exiting the 28-member European Union.
British leaders have repeatedly blocked efforts to create a European army because of concerns that it would undermine the NATO alliance, the primary defense structure in Europe since 1949.
Proponents of European defense integration argue that it is needed to counter growing security threats and would save billions of euros in duplication between countries.
Critics say that the creation of a European army, a long-held goal (see Appendix below) of European federalists, would entail an unprecedented transfer of sovereignty from European nation states to unelected bureaucrats in Brussels, the de facto capital of the EU.
Others say that efforts to move forward on European defense integration show that European leaders have learned little from Brexit — the June 23 decision by British voters to leave the EU — and are determined to continue their quest to build a European superstate regardless of opposition from large segments of the European public.
The Süddeutsche Zeitung reported that it had obtained a copy of a six-page position paper, jointly written by French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and his German counterpart, Ursula von der Leyen. The document calls for the establishment of a "common and permanent" European military headquarters, as well as the creation of EU military structures, including an EU Logistics Command and an EU Medical Command.
The document calls on EU member states to integrate logistics and procurement, coordinate military R&D and synchronize policies in matters of financing and military planning. EU intelligence gathering would be improved through the use of European satellites; a common EU military academy would "promote a common esprit de corps."
According to the newspaper, the document will be distributed to European leaders at an informal summit in Bratislava, Slovakia, on September 16. France and Germany will ask the leaders of the other EU member states not only to approve the measures, but also to "discuss a fast implementation."
Specifically, France and Germany will for the first time activate Article 44 of the Lisbon Treaty (also known as the European Constitution). This clause allows certain EU member states "which are willing and have the necessary capability" to proceed with the "task" of defense integration, even if other EU member states disapprove.
According to Süddeutsche Zeitung:
"In the wake of the British referendum to leave the European Union, Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande have decided to demonstrate the EU's strength and to push the remaining member states to show more unity. Especially in defense policy, many projects were put on hold because Britain vetoed them. Without London, the two EU founding states, France and Germany, hope for swift decisions."
On September 8, Defense News reported that the creation of a European army was the central focus of an August 22 meeting between the leaders of France, Germany and Italy in Naples, where the three declared "the beginning of a new Europe." That meeting was followed by a meeting of defense ministers from the three countries in Paris on September 5.
According to Defense News, Italy is lobbying France and Germany to "back a plan for European tax breaks and financing for joint European defense procurement and development programs, as part of a bid to build a European army."
A confidential draft document circulated by Italy calls for "fiscal and financial incentives to support new EU cooperative programs for development and joint purchases of equipment and infrastructure supporting the EU's Common Security and Defense Policy."
In a September 8 interview with La Repubblica, the EU's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, called for the establishment of a permanent EU military headquarters in Brussels that would manage all current and future EU military operations. "This could become the nucleus around which a common European defense structure could be built," she said.
Mogherini insisted that "we are not talking about a European army but about European defense: something we can really do, concretely, starting now." She also stressed that EU defense policy would remain under the control of European governments rather than the European Commission, the powerful executive arm of the EU.
On September 7, however, The Times reported that Mogherini will present EU leaders attending the summit in Bratislava with a "road map" and a "timetable" for creating EU military structures, which are "the foundation of a European army." According to newspaper, her plans for military structures able "to act autonomously" from NATO have led to fears that "the EU is seeking to rival the transatlantic alliance."
The Times quoted Mogherini as saying she was taking advantage of the "political space" opened by the Brexit vote:
"It might sound a bit dramatic but we are at this turning point. We could relaunch our European project and make it more functional and powerful for our citizens and the rest of the world. Or we could diminish its intensity and power. We have the political space today to do things that were not really doable in previous years."
The Conservative Party's defense spokesman, Geoffrey Van Orden, said the implications of the EU's defense ambitions are worrying:
"We can all see that the EU might play a useful role in conflict prevention and in some civil aspects of crisis management. But its ambitions go beyond that. The EU motive is not to create additional military capability but to achieve defense integration as a key step on the road to a federal EU state.
"The US and indeed the UK are being misled if they imagine that such moves will enhance NATO — the key guarantor of our collective defense. On the contrary, creation of EU defense structures, separate from NATO, will only lead to division between transatlantic partners at a time when solidarity is needed in the face of many difficult and dangerous threats to the democracies."
Mike Hookem, the defense spokesman of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), said his party had been warning about the dangers posed by the EU army concept for years:
"I'm pleased to see people are finally waking up. An EU army is not some Eurosceptic fantasy, there are many in Brussels hell-bent on making it happen."