Global Independent Analytics
Giuseppe Zaccaria
Giuseppe Zaccaria

Location: Italy

Specialization: Balkans, Yugoslavia

A European Army? "Jawohl"

Merkel announced a surprising revival of the old dominant feeling of German supremacy, adding highly charged rhetoric and announcing that Berlin wants to play a larger role on the world stage.

This information was sidelined by other major themes (like the Trump campaign or Queen Elizabeth’s opinion that the Chinese are rude, in that order of importance, of course), but no one noticed something that never before happened in Europe, not even in the times of the Second World War: the "Deutsches Heer", that the German army has absorbed all the mechanized brigades of the Dutch.

The agreement was signed on June 11 last year and since then one after another three brigades, as well as support and special forces personnel, and the 11th Airborne unit have joined officially the first German mechanized division. This is the first time ever that a European country delivered its armies to another country. "Never before has a State given up this primary and integral part of its sovereignty,” political editor Thorsten Jungholt  wrote to" Die Welt," continuing to say that “the time has come, finally, to take concrete steps towards a European Army."

The move, however historic, was justified by a lack of financial means: it is easier to perform joint exercises, coordinate activities and even rearm. But now we are already in the second stage: while the 13th Mechanized Brigade remains the only Dutch army unit still under Hague’s command, with each passing day it becomes clearer that this is not an experiment in multinational cooperation, but the beginning of the turning over of the nucleus of the European armies to Germany (although perhaps UK armed forces will be excluded).

On 4 February German defense minister Ursula von der Leyen signed a new agreement with her Dutch colleague Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert that opens the way to full integration of naval units. Both countries are making a conscious effort to maintain, expand and increase some of their military capabilities, and Germany wants to employ the Dutch model in collaboration with other nations as well. Bilateral cooperation with Austria and Poland is gaining momentum.

So far it could be promoted in terms of the rationalization of resources, if not for one fact: the command of the whole apparatus remains in German hands. Also, the signals that come from political circles seem to speak of a new ambition: last month, ahead of regional elections, Angela Merkel insisted on a stronger role for her country on the world stage, despite her opponents’ impression that Germany was withdrawing because of the pressure of refugees. Instead, Merkel announced a surprising revival of the old dominant feeling of German supremacy, adding highly charged rhetoric and announcing that Berlin wants to play a larger role on the world stage. With good economic numbers within the EU, which promise to remain so, today's democratic Germany has all the prerogatives to realize the dream behind the phrase: "Wars, never the most."

Even the German defense official Hans-Peter Bartels is making it clear that the agreement with the Netherlands was not to be an isolated event, but rather a model that Germany intends to follow, absorbing more foreign armies units. "Germany is leading the project for a European army," ran the headline in "Die Welt", and shortly after that Bundeswehr Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Bruno Kasdorf wrote a letter outlining plans for future cooperation.

"The integration of the Dutch mechanized brigades into the First German armored division should be encouraged,” he wrote. “The two nations agreed to study further exchanges of units and organizations." These two countries are already conducting exercises together, but soon we may also see Polish battalions joining the German army because in 2011 the two nations signed an agreement for joint naval training and cooperation in the Baltic Sea. Even Hans-Peter Bartels, the chairman of the defense committee of the German parliament and recipient of Kasdorf’s letter, left no doubt about the final goal: "It is time, finally, to undertake concrete steps towards a European army," he stated to " Die Welt ."

In another letter, General Kasdorf wrote that Germany is a "driver and a pioneer" when it comes to international cooperation between armed forces. So far, the financial pressure is to push neighbors in the direction of military cooperation because by working together they can accomplish as much with less investment, but the commitment of Russia in the Ukraine and Russophobia are generating other pressures. "Something is sprouting in Germany, “ wrote Jan Techau, director of the "Carnegie Europe” think tank,  "and as Europeans we must ponder the necessity of military force after the annexation of Crimea by Russia, and NATO's evolution.  Afghanistan today forces the reluctant central power of Europe to conduct a serious examination of conscience about its role as a military actor."

Techau continues: "This process of reflection started years ago when the former Minister of Defense Karl-Theodor Guttenberg started to put things right by calling the war in Afghanistan war and making sure that a fallen soldier ceases to be taboo. But now, after those language adaptations to reality, there seems to be happening a deeper change, which could lead to a change in political behavior. "

Germany has already sent aircraft to help patrol the airspace of the Baltic States and a ship for the "Baltic NATO task force," and it has doubled its staff at the headquarters of the Alliance's Northeast Corps in Szczecin,  Poland. "The NATO headquarters is mainly dedicated to the area of  defense, in other words, more like looking at Russia,” continues Techau,  “and more importantly, Germany has decided to integrate its ground forces in the system of exercises that it is putting together to strengthen the presence of Alliance troops on its eastern flank. Only a few months ago, Berlin would have categorically ruled out such a move. But now Germany has placed firmly in the center a substantial compromise with NATO that will, of course, appeal to Moscow. This is not a revolution in the military posture of Germany, but it is substantial progress. The cooperation that Berlin has begun with Holland could become a model for all of Europe. "

So far there is only one country of the Union which is clearly against the planned transfer of military units, let alone a common army, and of course, that is in Great Britain. For the Cameron government, there is "no prospect" that the UK would accept the creation of the European army. A government spokesman said: "Our position is clear: defense is the responsibility of the citizen, not the EU, and there is no prospect that this position will change." In the past, David Cameron had already blocked moves to create military forces controlled by the Union, and while admitting that the defense cooperation between member states is to be hoped for he added that, "it is not right for the European Union has, armies, air forces, and their capabilities. "

Geoffrey Van Orden, Conservative MEP and spokesman for the Defense and Security Party, caused an uproar: "This drive towards a European army must stop. The Eurocrats in crisis today see it as an opportunity to promote the objectives of centralization, but experience shows that it is not necessary to support an army, a navy or a European air force and that NATO has been and must remain the cornerstone of the collective defense of Europe ".

Mike Hookem, of "Ukip", warns that his party stands by its position on continental foreign policy and stresses that its leader, Nigel Farage, has already warned the European Union against building its own army. Hookem continues: "Ukip has been ridiculed for years for having said that the traditional parties of the United Kingdom are slowly ceding control of our defense and moving towards a European army, however, once again, the prediction was correct. A European army will be a tragedy for the United Kingdom, we all saw the disarray in Brussels' euro zone economy, and we cannot even think of trusting them for the defense of this island."

On the other hand, there is the 'Weimar Group'. i.e. the five European countries (France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Poland) that years ago supported the idea of an  EU army. Chancellor Merkel conditions the process of renegotiation of the British position to UK’s support for the common army project. In short - we are talking about armies - the battle has just begun.

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