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Will the European Union have an army? The return of the Franco-German alliance

“More than ever, Europe is facing huge challenges. Especially in times of crisis, our citizens must be able to recognize the value and benefits of being EU members. It is important to be able to guarantee internal security. This also implies an obligation to fight both the real threats and international Islamic terrorism in Europe”. These words are part of the Franco-German text presented on August 23 at the European Commission, in order to face the external and internal threats. A few days later, on September 11, at the eve of the Bratislava summit, another text was sent to the High Representative (HR) Federica Mogherini containing proposals to implement the Global Strategy of the European Union. The Global Strategy was presented during the first meeting without the United Kingdom, on June 28 in Brussels. After the referendum, it was clear that many balances should have been changed; however, a lot of people already speak about the Franco-German alliance, ready to take a leading role inside the European security and defense policy (ESDP). Firstly, this article will explain the content of the Lisbon Treaty’s articles which define the European common security and defense policy. Secondly, the path of the European security policy after Brexit will be presented. Finally, the objective consequences of this evolution will be analysed, in order to understand the implications of the Franco-German proposition.   

The limits of the European security and defense policy (CSDP)

Before thinking about the creation of a European’s army, it needs to explain the parts of the Lisbon Treaty that discipline the CSDP. A depth analysis is provided by Stephan Keukeleire (Professor at the University of Leuven and at the College of Europe) and Tom Delreux (Associate Professor at the Catholic University of Louvain), in their book The Foreign Policy of the European Union.

The Lisbon Treaty is an international treaty, signed on 13 December 2007. It amended the Treaty on European Union (TEU) and the Treaty establishing the European Community (TEC). The first has kept the same name and the second was called « Treaty on the Functioning of the Union » (TFEU). According to the two authors, the conclusions on the CSDP can be drawn if we analyze some articles.

In the article 42 (paragraph 1 and 2), we can read:

The common security and defence policy shall be an integral part of the common foreign and security policy. It shall provide the Union with an operational capacity drawing on civilian and military assets. The Union may use them on missions outside the Union for peace-keeping, conflict prevention and strengthening international security in accordance with the principles of the United Nations Charter. The performance of these tasks shall be undertaken using capabilities provided by the Member States.[…] The policy of the Union in accordance with this Section shall not prejudice the specific character of the security and defence policy of certain Member States and shall respect the obligations of certain Member States, which see their common defence realised in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), under the North Atlantic Treaty and be compatible with the common security and defence policy established within that framework.

According to the two authors, this article shows that the Member states do not want the CSDP change neither their foreign policies nor the relationship already established with NATO. The CSDP is accepted if it supports the NATO or Member States policies. Then it is clear that any member State wants the CSDP to threaten its national interests.

However, paragraph 7 of that article states:

 If a Member State is the victim of armed aggression on its territory, the other Member States shall have towards it an obligation of aid and assistance by all the means in their power, in accordance with Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. This shall not prejudice the specific character of the security and defence policy of certain Member States.

In addition, article 46 states:

  1. Those Member States which wish to participate in the permanent structured cooperation referred to in Article 42(6), which fulfil the criteria and have made the commitments on military capabilities set out in the Protocol on permanent structured cooperation, shall notify their intention to the Council and to the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.
  2. Within three months following the notification referred to in paragraph 1 the Council shall adopt a decision establishing permanent structured cooperation and determining the list of participating Member States. The Council shall act by a qualified majority after consulting the High Representative.

In consideration of these articles, it can be highlighted that according to the TEU:

  • Civilian and military operations of the EU must comply with the Charter of the United Nations;
  • The EU member states have not the obligation to undertake an operation within the PSCD, and sometimes they can choose to mobilize NATO’s tools to reach their defense and security objectives.
  • In the event of a terrorist attack, the TEU states the principle of solidarity between states, which, however, is very « elastic » considering that each State keep its sovereignty.
  • Member States which fulfill higher criteria for military capabilities may establish a permanent structured cooperation within the Union and shall notify the Council and the High representative, which must express their position within six months. That is what Germany and France done on 11 September.

In the next paragraph we will examine the EU’s path in the field of security and defense since the presentation of the Global Strategy (on June 28), in order to explain its aims, hopes and limitations.


From the Global Strategy to Bratislava: the strong approach

On 28 and 29 June in Brussels, the 27 heads of State and Government held an informal meeting to discuss the policy and practical implications of Brexit. The leaders also launched a debate on the future of the European Union, in view of the Bratislava meeting on 16 September. The European Council focused on the policy implications of the referendum which took place in the United Kingdom. The leaders also discussed other urgent issues: the response to the migration crisis, the European market, employment, and cooperation with NATO. In fact, during this first meeting without the United Kingdom, Federica Mogherini presented the Global Strategy of the EU, the document containing the future directions of the security and defense policy.

In the text it is highlighted, for the first time, that there is the need to a Union that is independent from the strategic point of view. Foreign and security policy has to deal with global and local dynamics phenomena, planetary superpower and increasingly fragmented identities. For this reason the Union can only work to strengthen the partners. Particular attention is given to consolidating the transatlantic link and partnership with NATO. In fact, among the list of priorities (listed in the second paragraph of the Global Strategy), there is the security one. Terrorism and hybrid threats are among the top concerns. So there is an incentive to Member States in order to translate into policy actions that promote mutual assistance and solidarity, always in cooperation with NATO. In Brussels, the EU really showed that it wants to strengthen the security policy structures, both in the form of consultations among Member States, and with the Atlantic Alliance. The EU wants to systematically encourage cooperation in the defense and create a strong European defense industry, which is essential to ensure the European independence to act and decide. According to the Global Strategy the strengthening of cooperation between Member States, which could lead to a structured cooperation, is vital (Article 46).

On 8 and 9 July, a further step forward was made in Warsaw, during the NATO Summit. On that occasion Jens Stoltenberg (NATO Secretary General), Jean-Claude Juncker (President of the European Commission) and Donald Tusk (President of the European Council) signed a Joint Declaration on the stronger EU-NATO cooperation. Highlighting the common challenges, the two organizations decided to work together. A stronger European Union and a stronger NATO are mutually reinforcing. Together they can provide greater security in Europe and beyond. Cooperation in more areas is a strategic priority. For this reason, it was decided that the European External Action Service and the NATO International Staff, together with Commission services as appropriate, will develop concrete options for implementation, including appropriate staff coordination mechanisms, to be presented by December 2016.

These two phases show that in June, the EU expressed its willingness to increase its power and at the same time to step-up existing relationship with the Atlantic Alliance. These concepts have been underlined during the two meetings in Bratislava, the first on September 16 and the second on 26 and 27 September.

On 16 September, in a Joint Statement, the EU decided that it need to make an action plan in the field of security and defense in order to implement the TEU and the EU-NATO Joint declaration. On 26 September, the proposals of different States on practical measures have been discussed in order to implement the Global Strategy. The EU ministers reached a general agreement to proceed in parallel on three main aspects in the coming months. First on the implementation of the Global Strategy in the defense and security sector, using tools already provided by EU treaties, but never used before as the permanent structured cooperation. Secondly, the HR Federica Mogherini and the Ministers discussed about the European defense action plan, particularly in the field of industrial support related to research and technology. Thirdly, they discussed the strategic partnership with NATO through the implementation of the EU-NATO Joint Declaration signed last July in Warsaw.

In Conclusion, the EU is considering more paths, and listening countries’ proposals to increase both its power and cooperation with NATO. However, since few weeks, the European politics are discussing about the « special and feared » proposition advanced by France and Germany. People are talking about a future army, and many worries about the collapse of a Europe in which only two countries will have a monopoly of force. Before creating alarmism, it could be useful to explain the content of the Franco-German proposal, why it created so many concerns, which were the reactions of the EU member states, and what the consequences on European policy could be.

The Franco-German alliance and the fear of a European army

A proposal could scare, especially if it comes from the two most powerful countries of the European Union. This proposition is an occasion for Germany to gain space in European foreign policy. The two powers, combined, can change the EU’s history, or rather, that’s what the newspapers think, and that’s what scares other countries, which since September 11 yell in unison “not to a European army”.

On September 11, few days before the first summit in Bratislava, France and Germany submitted a proposal/notification to the High Representative Federica Mogherini, referring to Article 46 of the TEU. The full text of the document is not yet available to the public, however, the defense ministers of the two countries explained in a press conference the content of their request. While the two ministers presented the proposition in Bratislava (on 26-27 September), the practical measures for the implementation of the Global Strategy will be decided and voted in the coming Council meeting in December. The points of the proposition are as follows:

  • Considering the establishment of the permanent structured cooperation (PSC), foreseen by the Lisbon Treaty (and never used before), based on the voluntary participation and inclusivity.
  • Using and combining military and civilian instruments. Ideally, this ability includes the strategic planning and operational missions. The strategic planning capacity is supposed to remain under the competence of the European External Action Service (EEAS Crisis Response System), and the chain of command under the control of the Political and Security Committee of the European Union (PSC).
  • Building of a permanent headquarter (in Brussels) for the EU military and civil missions, in order to planning and conducting military and civilian operations.
  • Strengthening the Eurocorps (an intergovernmental military corps of approximately 1,000 soldiers stationed in Strasbourg, acting under the command and control of NATO and includes departments from Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg and Spain) that could support the EU with the experience to the training missions, strategic advice and assistance. At the same time, Eurocorps would continue to support NATO if necessary;
  • Creating a form of European headquarter for cadets or course for the troops, in order to develop a truly European spirit;
  • Implementing the EU-NATO Joint Declaration of 8 July 2016 acknowledging that a stronger Europe is directly proportional to a stronger NATO.

In the EU, these points have triggered a chain reaction based on mutual distrust and fear. Initial reactions have underlined the intention of creating an army commanded by the two strongest powers of Europe. It is important to note that after the Brexit there is a spirit of revenge by the two countries who could become the EU guides, and also because France and Germany are the two countries that now invest the most in the CSDP. However, there is an objective distinction between what reality is and what the other countries (aware of their limits and that for years have exploited the EU means and then used NATO structures) want to see.

In Bratislava, different proposals were submitted, most of which remain unknown because the most important has been done by France and Germany. The first form of opposition came from the UK. According to the English Minister Michael Follon (Secretary of State for defence) the idea carried out by the Franco-German would cause a duplication of NATO. In fact, for 43 years the UK has been putting its veto for the creation of a European army, and the reasons are known, especially now after Brexit: the UK is a strong NATO contributor. If the decision to carry on the Franco-German proposal goes ahead, , the United Kingdom will pay an amount twice for two different organizations. Italy, for its part, has put forward its proposal, a non-paper, based on soft power (research and technology, fiscal and financial incentives and supplies), which remains in the same line with the Franco-German proposal. The countries of Eastern Europe and the Baltic countries don’t agree with this position, except the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic, which have a position closer to the Franco-German one, mitigated by the Italian non-paper.

However, taking into consideration the articles of the TEU mentioned above, the Franco-German proposal does not add anything new. Even Federica Mogherini, after the last informal meeting in Bratislava, said that the aim is not the creation of a European army, but to strengthen existing structures, such as the Battle group. The intensification of work on European defense does not mean the creation of a European army. It rather consists in the strengthening of cooperation to create a more effective European defense in full complementarity with NATO.

According to HR’s words no one has ever proposed the creation of an army, because it is not foreseen by the Lisbon Treaty. The proposals, including the France and Germany one, concerns the use of the means already provided in Article 46 TEU. Although, NATO is not afraid of the implementation of the European security and defense policy. Jens Stoltenberg stated that there is no contradiction between a strong European defense and a strong NATO, stressing that both are mutually reinforcing. He added that it is important to avoid duplication and ensure that the dialogue between the two organizations is transparent and open.


Whether the Franco-German proposal is fully accepted or not, it illustrates that the EU is moving towards an internal and external structural change. The EU wants to improve itself, and perhaps, within a framework characterized by Euroscepticism, the reform could start from the security and defense sector. The word « reform » may be inappropriate because despite the speculation of the public and of some Member States, no reform is yet planned. The Franco-German proposition aims at the application of articles contained in the Lisbon Treaty, which for a long time and for many subjects has been considered as a discretional document, such as terrorism and especially migration.

At this point, two questions are raised. The first relates to the fact that two powers have shown that together they know how to shake the foundations of a complex structure, even worrying the United Kingdom. This alliance does not shatter even if the proposal is not totally approved. The two countries now are the leaders, and have Italy and Spain’s supports. In the coming months, and at least until François Hollande and Angela Merkel will remain in charge of their governments, the centre of the European policy will be Paris and Berlin, especially the consultative referendum in UK.

The second question, related to the first, concerns the future of the European Union’s role on the international scene. If the Global Strategy is to become fully applied, the European Union’s role may change once again, fusing the soft to the hard power. The use of new means can be interpreted a turning point. Even the United States and NATO agree with the European power development in terms of security. Do not fear neither duplication nor overlap with NATO. A stronger Europe should reduce the workload of NATO and the United States commitment in the euro zone. Public opinion, after Brexit, has condemned the EU as an organization unable to standing on its pillars. But history teaches us that whenever the EU was on the verge of the abyss, it was able to keep from falling. If history continues its path, perhaps the proposal made by the alliance (and similar proposals) will really be an impetus for a new Europe.

Maria Elena Argano


For further information:

EEAS Site, Remarks by the High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini upon arrival at the Informal EU Defence Ministers meeting

NATO Site, NATO Secretary General welcomes discussion on strengthening European defence:

La Croix Site, Les idées de la France et de l’Allemagne pour faire avancer la défense européenne:

Agenzia internazionale Stampa estero, Difesa comune europa: Pinotti al Vertice informale di Bratislava :

NATO-UE Joint Déclaration :

The Bratislava Declaration:

EEAS Site, 28 EU Defence ministers agree to move forward on European Defence:

The Global Strategy of the European Union:

Treaty of the European Union:

Initiative franco-allemande sur les enjeux clés de la coopération européenne dans le domaine de la sécurité intérieure 23 août 2016

Stephan Keukeleire and Tom Delreux (2014) The Foreign Policy of the European Union, Chapter 8 (The European Security and Defence Policy), pp. 174- 198

Adeline Silva Pereira

Après avoir effectué la deuxième année du master Sécurité Globale analyste politique trilingue à l'Université de Bordeaux, j'effectue un stage au sein d'EU Logos afin de pouvoir mettre en pratique mes compétences d'analyste concernant l'actualité européenne sur la défense, la sécurité et plus largement la coopération judiciaire et policière.

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