Merkel's speech:


The question of a European Army has got a lot of people excited ...largely because it seems to fly in the face of the idea of sovereignty at its very heart.


In the context of Trump's questioning of NATO, his falling out with Macron who was pushing the idea, and now Brexit as well as the wider context of nationalistic versions of populism, the Euro Army thing seems to be an elite provocation


But is it....


Is there not a version of a European Army in (co-)operation today?



Has there been such an institution, albeit rather un-noticed, since the end of World War 2?



If so, what did it look like



What was its history?



Having reviewed these matters, I shall then come to discuss the problems besetting the current flare-up of the idea of a European Army.




The Western Union (WU), also referred to as the Brussels Treaty Organisation (BTO), was the European military alliance established between France, the United Kingdom (UK) and the three Benelux countries in September 1948 in order to implement the Treaty of Brussels signed in March the same year.  Under this treaty the signatories, referred to as the five powers, agreed to collaborate in the defence field as well as in the political, economic and cultural fields.


During the Korean War (1950–1953), the headquarters, personnel and plans of the WU's defence arm, the Western Union Defence Organisation (WUDO), were transferred to the newly established North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), providing the nucleus of NATO's command structure at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE). As a consequence of the failure of the European Defence Community in 1954, the London and Paris Conferences led to the Modified Treaty of Brussels (MTB) through which the Western Union was transformed into the Western European Union (WEU) and was joined by Italy and West Germany. As the WEU's functions were transferred to the European Union's (EU) European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) at at the turn of the 21st century, the Western Union is a precursor of both NATO and the military arm of the EU.


The roots of the WU lie in the British-French Treaty of Dunkirk signed in 1947. A defence pact assuring each signatory of coming to the others aid in  the event of attack. Initially a bulwark against any further aggression from Germany...but


It is perhaps not co-incidental that it was driven from the British side by Ernest Bevin, formerly the leader of the TGWU and an arch anti-communist. Britain and the US for reasons I do not have to rehearse were deeply suspicious of Soviet policy and of course this was heating up the Cold war.


Early 1948 - Proposal to extend the Treaty of Dunkirk to include Benelux with an envisaging of incorporating Italy and then later Germany.


Three factors had led to the Brussels Treaty of 17 March 1948.


1) to urge to promote economic, social and cultural cooperation and collective self-defence as East-West tension mounted, with the Soviet Union soon being seen as posing a threat through its determination to impose control over the countries of Central Europe.


2) to  reflect the resolve of the contracting States to take precautions against the potential resurgence of any threat from Germany; there was already a sign of this solidarity in the Franco-British Treaty of Dunkirk of 4 March 1947.


3) to confirm the wish of European countries to organise themselves jointly, indirectly prompting the United States and Canada to commit themselves militarily in Europe as well through the emergence of the Atlantic Alliance in April 1949 

The aim of the Americans was to bring defence resources and policies under one head.



And there was another factor that gave urgency to countries settle the terms of mutual assurance and that was the take-over of the Czech government by the communists - the 'Prague' Coup.


It accelerated the construction of a West European alliance, the Treaty of Brussels, the following month; mutual security was the new watchword. Until early 1948, Western and Soviet representatives had communicated in regular meetings at the foreign minister level; the Czech coup constituted a final rupture in relations between the two superpowers, with the West now committing itself to collective self-defence. By early March, France was demanding a concrete military alliance with definite promises to help in certain circumstances.



The UK Foreign Secretary Bevin was greatly concerned about the possible success of the communists in the forthcoming Italian election as he felt that the coup would be used by the Italian left as a popular signal of the success of political freedom and that this would  ramify into a Communist win in Italy. Actually it rather appalled the italians who disobligingly did not let the left triumph.


The most important action taken by the Brussels Treaty Organisation was the political decision to set up a Standing Military Committee (London) on 30 April 1948, three major commands  and a joint staff forming the Western Union Defence Organisation (WUDO), which would be in place even in peacetime. The task of the Military Committee was to draw up defence plans, take stock of resources and coordinate military resources.




Below is the organisational chart for WUDO


NATO as emergence from the increasing anxiety about the formation of a 'Soviet Bloc' (Treaty signed: 4th April 1949)


but I am not going there as the story is too familiar.


Cold war in Europe: NATO v Warsaw Pact



A map of Europe showing several countries on the left in blue, while ones on the right are in red. Other unaffiliated countries are in white.



Upon the accession of Eisenhower in 1950 to Supreme Allied Commander Europe, it was agreed that WUDO would be incorporated into NATO


That might have been the end of a directly European Army as such but the story was not over yet.


The question remained of what to do about Germany and its role in European defence.

The US was considering the development of 12 West German army division that would be part of NATO but this was objected to by the French and perhaps by Europe who saw that Europe was losing out s between  the US and Russia in terms of military and security influence.




Emergence of the European Defence Community


To overcome this sense of loss the Pleven Plan emerged. though it was drafted mainly by Jean Monnet, that aimed to create a supranational European Army. With this project, France tried to satisfy America's demands, avoiding, at the same time, the creation of German divisions, and thus the rearmament of Germany.



The EDC was to include West Germany, France, Italy, and the Benelux countries. The United States would be excluded. It was a competitor to NATO (in which the US played the dominant role), with France playing the dominant role. Just as the Schuman Plan was designed to end the risk of Germany having the economic power to make war again, the Pleven Plan and EDC were meant to prevent the same possibility. The United Kingdom refused to join. The USA keen on West Germany playing a proper part in European defence signed the EDC agreement on May 1952.



It is clear the the EDC really was an attempt to build a European Army..but french national pride and thus intransigence played a key part in France refusing to ratify the Treaty of Paris and them other countries were becoming wary of the degree of military integration it would involve and by 1954 the EDC had collapsed.



A Time magazine article from Monday 12th January 1953 was entitled and opened thus:


EUROPEAN ARMY: De Gaulle's Alternative

Seven profitless months have passed since six Western European nations signed treaties with each other for the creation of a European Defense Community. The treaties provide for a common 43 division army, wearing the same uniforms, using the same weapons, and obeying the same commander; but before a corps can be organized or a single German armed, the treaties have to be ratified by the parliaments of six countries. France and Germany, with old antagonisms rankling, are stalling. What happens if EDC is not ratified? European statesmen pale at the question, give answers like that of Germany's Chancellor Konrad Adenauer:...



EDC and the Treaty 1952:




The President of the Federal Republic of Germany, His Majesty

the King of the Belgians, the President of the French Republic, the

President of the Italian Republic, Her Royal Highness the Grand

Duchess of Luxembourg, Her :Majesty the Queen of the Netherlands,

Resolved to contribute to the maintenance of peace, particularly

by ensuring the defense of 'Western Europe against any aggression,

in cooperation with all free nations, in the spirit of the

United Nations Charter, and in close liaison with organizations

having the same purpose;


Considering that as complete an integration as possible, compatible

with military requirements, of the human and material

elements gathered in their Defense Forces within a supranational

European organization is the most appropriate means of reaching

this goal with all the necessary rapidity and effectiveness;


Certain that such integration will result in the most rational

and economic utilization of the resources of their countries, as a

result, particularly, of the establishment of a common budget and

of common armament programs ;


Determined to ensure in this way the development of their military

power without prejudicing social progress;


Desirous to safeguard the spiritual and moral values which are

the common heritage of their peoples, and convinced that within

a common army constituted without discrimination among the

participating States national patriotisms, far from being weakened,

can only become consolidated and reconciled in a_ broader



Conscious that they are thus taking a new and essential step

on the road to the formation of a united Europe;


Have decided to create a European Defense Community and to this

end have designated as plenipotentiaries:

* * * * * * *

Who, after having exchanged their full powers and found them in

good and due form, have agreed upon the provisions which follow.


Chapter 1-The European Defense Community



By the present Treaty the High Contracting Parties institute among

themselves a European Defense Community, supranational in character,

consisting of common institutions, common armed Forces and a

common budget.



1. The objectives of the Community shall be exclusively defensive.

2. Consequently, under the conditions provided for in the present

Treaty, it shall ensure the security of the member States against any

aggression by participating in Western Defense within the framework

of the North Atlantic Treaty and by accomplishing the integration

of the defense forces of the member States and the rational and

economic utilization of their resources.


3. Any armed aggression directed against any one of the member

States in Europe or against the European Defense Forces shall be

considered as an attack directed against all of the member States.

The member States and the European Defense Forces shall

furnish to the State or Forces thus attacked all military and other

aid and assistance in their power.



The Community shall cooperate closely with the North Atlantic

Treaty Organization.


Chapter Il-Legal Status of the European Defense Forces



1. In the exercise of the functions assigned to it by the present

Treaty, and without prejudice to the rights and obligations of the

member States :


the Community shall have, in respect of the European Defense

Forces and theit members, the same rights and obligations as the

States in respect of their national forces and their members, in

accordance with customary international law;


the Community shall respect the rules embodied in conventions

concerning the laws of war which bind one or more of its member



2. Consequently, European Defense Forces and their members shall '

benefit, under international law, from the same treatment as national

forces and their members.



Even then the idea of some mechanisms of a European defence pact was not over. The transformation of the WU into the Western European Union (WEU)



It is in the signatories to the founding document of the WEU wherein is found the idea of Europe integration in a fairly full sense. The document was the Treaty of Brussels and its key proposals were:


To create in Western Europe a firm basis for European economic recovery;


To afford assistance to each other in resisting any policy of aggression;


To promote the unity and encourage the progressive integration of Europe.


Of course the UK was not involved. And NATO has to all intents ad purposes taken over - made irrelevant - the defence pact aspect of the WEU


The increasing significance of the European Community (as the EU was called  then) as the coordinating body of European states as well as the recognition of the general importance of not only economic integration but political integration. This saw in 1970 the emergence of 'European Political Cooperation' and this meant: Foreign Policy coordination.


This did not extend to defence co-operation and thus led to an opportunity for the WEU to take up the slack. Opposition to these efforts from Denmark, Greece and Ireland led the remaining EC countries - all WEU members - to reactivate the WEU in 1984.



Failure of EU in the Emerging Yugoslavian Crisis. 1990-1999


Members of the EEC were divided over the importance they should give to the potentially contradictory principles of self-determination and territorial integrity. German Chancellor Helmut Kohl strongly stressing the right to self-determination, French President Francois Mitterrand arguing against immediate cutoff of aid to Yugoslavia, while Spain, Italy and United Kingdom insisted on the territorial integrity of Yugoslavia. On 25 November 1991, due to the escalation of hostilities and violations of human rights, all agreements on co-operation between the EEC and SFR Yugoslavia were cancelled. Widely perceived EEC's failure in former Yugoslavia, which undermined community's credibility and forced it to ask for United Nations, United States and Russian support, influenced future development of the Common Foreign and Security Policy.



1992 Petersberg Declaration began to address military based issues in the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall the potential for destabilisation of Eastern Europe. The Petersberg tasks are the military based tasks of a humanitarian, disarming, peacekeeping and crisis management.


The member states of the WEU agreed to deploy their troops and resources from across the whole spectrum of the military under the authority of the WEU. As a part of the partial merger of the WEU with the European Union, these tasks became part of the European Security and Defence Policy and incorporated into the 1997 EU Treaty of Amsterdam.



1996 NATO ministerial meeting in Berlin, it was agreed that the Western European Union would oversee the creation of a European Security and Defence Identity (ESDI) within NATO structures. The ESDI was intended as a European 'pillar' within NATO, partly to allow European countries to act militarily where NATO wished not to, and partly to alleviate the United States' financial burden of maintaining military bases in Europe, which it had done since the Cold War.

The ongoing failure of the EU to help sort out the then raging Kosovan war in 1998 led to the St Malo Declaration.



The Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) 1999 = ESDP


This led to the  transformation of the ESDI into the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) in 1999, when it was transferred to the EU


And all this seemed to resurrect the idea of a European Army in all but name.




Extract of Text of St Malo Delaration:

2. To this end, the Union must have the capacity for autonomous action, backed up by credible military forces, the means to decide to use them, and a readiness to do so, in order to respond to international crises.


In pursuing our objective, the collective defence commitments to which member states subscribe (set out in Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, Article V of the Brussels Treaty) must be maintained.


In strengthening the solidarity between the member states of the European Union, in order that Europe can make its voice heard in world affairs, while acting in conformity with our respective obligations in NATO, we are contributing to the vitality of a modernised Atlantic Alliance which is the foundation of the collective defence of its members.


Europeans will operate within the institutional framework of the European Union (European Council, General Affairs Council, and meetings of Defence Ministers).The reinforcement of European solidarity must take into account the various positions of European states. The different situations of countries in relation to NATO must be respected.


3. In order for the European Union to take decisions and approve military action where the Alliance as a whole is not engaged, the Union must be given appropriate structures and a capacity for analysis of situations, sources of intelligence, and a capability for relevant strategic planning, without unnecessary duplication, taking account of the existing assets of the WEU and the evolution of its relations with the EU. In this regard, the European Union will also need to have recourse to suitable military means (European capabilities pre-designated within NATO’s European pillar or national or multinational European means outside the NATO framework).


4. Europe needs strengthened armed forces that can react rapidly to the new risks, and which are supported by a strong and competitive European defence industry and technology.




To cut  a longer story short, most of the responsibilities for defence policy under the terms of the WEU were transferred to the EU by thee end of 2003-4.


In 2009 the Treaty of Lisbon took over the WEU's mutual defence clause.


There were plans to scrap it.


2010 UK announced its withdraw from the Western European Union within a year.[23]


On 31 March 2010 Germany announced its intention to withdraw from the Modified Brussels Treaty.


That same year, the Spanish Presidency of the WEU, on behalf of the 10 Member States of the Modified Brussels Treaty, announced the collective decision to withdraw from the Treaty and to close the WEU organisation by June 2011.


 On 30 June 2011 the WEU officially ceased to exist.



BUT...that did not mean that European defence policy and the possibility of a European military force had somehow ceased to exist.



The integration of the WEU into the structures of the ESDP


Across the 2000s there have been various missions and interventions by the EU


e.g. 2003 - Congo; Macedonia; 2008 against Somali pirates and so forth. The latter gave impetus to the formation of the EU Naval Force.


And then today we have PESCO - which could become the backbone statement for another run at creating a European Army



Article: Defence cooperation: 23 member states sign joint notification on the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO)

EU member states join up forces for reinforced security and defence with the permanent structured cooperation (PESCO).

On 13 November 2017 ministers from 23 member states signed a joint notification on the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) and handed it over to the High Representative and the Council.


The possibility of the Permanent Structured Cooperation in the area of defence security and defence policy was introduced by the Lisbon Treaty. It foresees the possibility of a number of EU member states working more closely together in the area of security and defence. This permanent framework for defence cooperation will allow those member states willing and able to jointly develop defence capabilities, invest in shared projects, or enhance the operational readiness and contribution of their armed forces.


The member states who signed the joint notification are: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Croatia, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden. It is possible for other member states to join at a later stage.


The joint notification is the first formal step to set up the PESCO. It sets out:

  • the principles of the PESCO, in particular underlining that the "PESCO is an ambitious, binding and inclusive European legal framework for investments in the security and defence of the EU's territory and its citizens" 


  • the list of "ambitious and more binding common commitments" the member states have agreed to undertake, including "regularly increasing defence budgets in real terms in order to reach agreed objectives",


  • proposals on PESCO governance, with an overarching level maintaining the coherence and the ambition of the PESCO, complemented by specific governance procedures at projects level.




At this point then the conclusion we can draw is that in a perhaps  rather scattered way across the last 70years Europe has waxed and waned over the formation of a  collective military force.




A European Army today?