Euro-Skepticism and the Future of the Common Security and Defense Policy

The heads of state or government of the EU member states. Image: Council of the European Union Recent public opinion surveys in Europe show an increase in Euro-skepticism and declining optimism for European integration. According to Eurobarometer, 46 percent of Europeans see themselves as Euro-skeptics and 49 percent as Euro-optimists. This trend holds for both old and new members of the EU and is underscored by several new populist and right-wing nationalist parties across Europe.

Populist and right-wing nationalist parties in Europe will become a stronger force in the 2014 elections to the European Parliament. In Finland, The Finns are the third largest political party. The Jobbik Party in Hungary and Golden Dawn in Greece stand out as the most aggressive anti-European, anti-Western, and openly anti-Semitic political parties in Europe. Even in the founding member states of the EU, Euro-skepticism is growing. The Dutch Party for Freedom could now achieve as many as twenty-seven seats in the Dutch Parliament. In Germany’s September 2013 federal elections, a new political party with the single-issue platform of pulling the country out of the euro came very close to entering the German Parliament. Most recently, the anti-European Front National achieved an unexpected electoral victory on the local level in southern France. These populist and right-wing nationalist parties will push national governments into a more Euro-skeptic political trajectory, limiting the prospects for deeper integration.

This bodes particularly ill for rapid progress toward a fiscal and banking union and could dim prospects for a Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP). With European defense spending at a dangerously low level of 1.6 percent of GDP, there is little hope that the EU will be able to build up the necessary capabilities for a more active military role even in its immediate neighborhood.

Since the Maastricht Treaty of 1992, there has been steady progress toward a common foreign and security policy, culminating in the 1998 St. Malo initiative launched by France and Great Britain. St. Malo was a decisive landmark for European military cooperation, leading to a new framework of institutions governing EU security and defense policy and committing Europe to strengthen its military capabilities, including a competitive European defense industry.

These promises are unfulfilled. The prospects for a more competitive European defense industry are not good. There were hopes that a merger between Airbus Industries and BAE Systems would create a dynamic global company. Germany’s deal-breaking condition to make Munich the headquarters of the new company caused the merger to fail and dealt a severe blow to the prospects of a more competitive European defense industry. The ambitious 1999 Headline Goals—to be able by 2003 to deploy some 15 brigades with up to 60,000 troops within 60 days and sustainable in the field for one year—were never achieved. The EU created a sophisticated institutional framework for its defense policy, including a Political and Security Committee, a Military Committee, a European Military Staff and EU Operational Headquarters, a Civil and Military Planning Cell and, in 2004, a European Defense Agency. But the European Battlegroups, created in 2004 as a result of the 2010 Headline Goal, have never been used and, therefore, never been put to a test. The EU launched a number of military operations under the former European Security and Defense Policy (e.g. Operation Concordia in Macedonia and Operation Artemis in Congo), but these were in substance civilian missions like the CSDP police-training mission in Afghanistan, not combat operations. Although impressive in numbers of personnel—the EU countries together have a higher number of military personnel than the United States—the number of European combat ready troops is much smaller than that of the United States. In fact, without the United States, Europe would not be in a position to handle a crisis of the dimension of Kosovo.

The crisis in Libya, part of the European Neighborhood, demonstrated to the world that the real reason for Europe’s unwillingness to use force is a lack of political commonality and capacity to act militarily. It will not be easy to overcome the internal barriers to a common use of force in the short term. Germany was unwilling to support a UN resolution establishing a no-fly zone over Libya. Whereas Russia and China as veto powers in the UN Security Council abstained—thereby allowing the establishment of a no-fly zone—the German abstention as a non-veto power was de facto a ‘No’ to the responsibility to protect. Germany even unilaterally withdrew its military assets in the Mediterranean. The intervention in Mali was by default a predominantly French national decision. In the case of Syria, the British Parliament refused to allow the use of force in spite of massive human rights violation by the Assad regime and the killing of more than 100,000 people, some by chemical weapons. The EU restricted its role in the conflict to providing humanitarian assistance to the more than two million Syrian refugees.

What Europe needs today is a renewed effort along the lines of the 1998 St. Malo initiative, including a German contribution commensurate with its political and economic weight. The move to a professional army in Germany is a step in the right direction, but the level and the quality of its armed forces must be increased in order to make Europe’s military capabilities more effective. Military capabilities that do not exist on a national level first, by definition, cannot be created on the European level. Without such reforms, the European Union’s capacity to back up diplomacy by force will be even weaker in the future.