In December 2012 Prime Minister, David Cameron, told Parliament that “We will never support a European Army”.
But under a deal reached in Brussels earlier that month, leaders of all 27 EU member states, including David Cameron, had promised to ‘strengthen’ Europe’s ability to deploy troops ‘rapidly and effectively in any future crisis’. There was a backlash from his Conservative MPs who fumed that he was taking the first steps towards a single military force across the whole of Europe.
And, indeed, in March 2015, the President of the EU Commission, Jean-Claude Junker, said that the EU needed its own army to address the claim that it is not ‘taken entirely seriously’ on the international stage. So this possibility has not gone away.
Germany, which has the union’s largest economy, is keen on the idea with their defence minister insisting that there “will be a European Army at some time”. And while Britain feels that such a Continental army would undermine the NATO alliance, Mr Junker thinks that since many of NATO’s members are outside Europe, a European army would be a stronger shield against, for instance, the growing threat of Russia.
The idea of such an army was first put forward in 1996 and since then there have been a number of smaller military or militia groups formed.
European Union ‘Battlegroups’ – battalion-sized military groups of troops from the member states, including the UK, which are under the direct control of the Council of the European Union. As of March 2015 they are yet to see any military action;
EUFOR – a rapid-reaction force, from various member states, operated by the EU as part of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) which complements other EU military forces such as:
Eurocorps – an intergovernmental army corps of approximately 1,000 soldiers stationed in Strasbourg;
European Maritime Force – a non-standing military force with the current participation of France, Italy, Spain and Portugal;
European Gendarmerie Force (EUROGENDFOR) – a police/militia designed to carry out police missions in different theatres, including destabilised ones, in support of the EU and other organisations. At present, membership of this Gendarmerie Force (which is much like that in France) is only open to EU countries which have a police force with military status and therefore does not include the UK.
Meanwhile, what is happening to Britain’s own defence forces?
After the 2010 election, the Tory ‘savage cuts’ affected the defence forces badly. The army’s strength fell to 82,000, the number of RAF combat squadrons fell to six and the number of operational navy warships stood at just 18, five destroyers and 13 frigates. And it was stated that the two new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers would not enter service until approximately 2020. Following the Tory win in the 2015 general election, Chancellor George Osborne has said that more defence cuts are planned although, one way or another, the government will keep to its promise that the 2% NATO defence target will be met.
But some of our allies are not happy.
For instance, some senior US military officers and politicians now wonder whether, when it comes to future wars, Britain now has the capability to be an effective ally on the battlefield, while no fewer than four former leaders of the UK’s Armed Forces have issued a passionate warning about the decline of British influence, saying that the military might of Britain has been rendered ‘feeble’ in the face of the current threats from around the world. Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Sir Nigel Essenhigh, a former First Sea Lord, even equates Britain’s current reluctance to arm itself with that which it showed in the 1930s to prepare to face the growing threat from Hitler until it was ‘nearly too late’.
And now, David Cameron is having to do what he really, really doesn’t want to do – urged on by the UKIP and other eurosceptics, he is now trying to claw back concessions from the European Union which Britain should not have given away in the past. Above all, he knows he must block excessive immigration by ensuring that the ‘free movement of peoples’ throughout the EU, a bedrock of the European Project, will not apply to Britain – and he knows that this will be impossible.
Now, Cameron really, really doesn’t want Britain to pull out of the European Union, so, how will ‘Cast Iron’ Cameron swing this second IN/OUT Referendum which he has promised the British people – if he doesn’t wriggle out of it again?
According to diplomatic sources, Cameron will use the ‘politics of fear’. And what better way to scare the voters than by getting the media – especially the BBC – to continually headline the current threats to Britain by Russia and world terrorism. He can then bleat that we can’t win on our own, because we don’t have sufficient forces or equipment and if we are to balance our books, we can’t afford more, adding forcefully that therefore staying in the European Union and joining a strong European Army is our only option.
Will the voters believe him?