The militarisation of the EU

IssueApril - May 2016
Feature by Chris Venables

Over the last 20 years, a host of committees, agencies, and departments designed to foster cooperation on issues of defence and security between the Member States have been created. Far from being an inevitable consequence of European integration, this militarisation represents a corruption of the European project.

EU treaty law provides only a limited foundation for building military co-operation, but this has not been an impediment for member states eager to increase efficiency though such co-operation with other EU member states. There are a variety of other agreements which involve some form of military co-operation between EU member states, sometimes with other countries. Most are driven by attempts to share military costs.

Battle groups

For example, the EU ‘battlegroups’ are an initiative aimed at promoting the integration of national armed forces and providing the EU with an independent military capability. They are supposed to be the ‘rapid response’ force of the EU. The battlegroups each consist of around 1,500 to 2,000 military personnel including support and service staff from two or three member states.

The end of the cold war marked a major turning point for the EU, particular with regards to foreign policy. The Maastricht treaty, signed in 1992, advocates ‘the progressive framing of a common defence policy, which might lead to a common defence’.

Militarisation has taken its most concrete form in the European Union through the creation – and continuing expansion – of the common security and defence policy (CSDP). Whilst still entirely intergovernmental, the existence of military structures within the EU signals a move to some degree of competency in defence.

The preamble to the ‘Treaty on European Union’ advocates the ‘progressing framing of a common defence policy, which might lead to a common defence’. Article 43(1) of the treaty states that CSDP ‘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.’

The EU can launch missions overseas for any number of reasons, but missions are most often aimed at strengthening the rule of law, training government military forces, and border monitoring in non-EU countries.

Of the 34 CSDP missions between 2003 and 2013, 10 have been explicitly military in nature, with military command structures and mobilisation of armed forces of EU Member States. The EU itself has no military so relies on the member states to provide personnel and equipment.

The nascent military ambitions of the EU are carried out on a day-to-day basis by a number of committees and agencies, including the EU military staff, the military committee and the political and security committee.

Arming the world

Europe is a major exporter of weapons and armaments, accounting for around 30 percent of global arms exports between 2008 and 2012. The myopic focus of the European commission, and many member state governments, on neo-liberal economic policies has led to policies geared towards supporting the European arms trade. As European governments cut their national defence budgets, this inevitably means a more aggressive approach to selling arms abroad.

A key development in this story was the creation of the European defence agency (the EDA). Set up as an agency of the council of ministers in 2004, the EDA is tasked with increasing co-operation between the militaries of EU member states. In 2015, it had a budget of €30.5 million and employed 120 members of staff. It is mandated to perform four tasks related to military policy:

  • Developing and monitoring military capability objectives for EU Member States
  • Promoting and enhancing European cooperation on arms procurement and production
  • Supporting military technology research and coordinating joint research activities
  • Strengthening the industrial and technological base of the military sector

The EU does not have its own military or the power to purchase equipment itself, so the EDA instead focuses on helping member states work together on military procurement and co-operation.

The EU is also showing evidence of becoming militarised in its funding of research and development. The research framework programme, ‘Horizon 2020’ (2014–2020) is estimated to be worth around €70 billion, with €2 billion initially earmarked for security research. Security research is a highly sensitive and controversial policy area for the commission because the programme is explicitly civilian in nature. By opening Horizon 2020 to military research, the commission explicitly supported the arms trade.

Topics: Armed forces, Europe