Britain’s leave-vote breathes life into a ‘Schengen for Defence’
Trough Brexit the European military integration has regained momentum. The EU’s foreign policy chief, Mogherini wants member states that are willing to integrate their defence capabilities to do so. The so called Schengen for Defence, proposed by Italian Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti, is rather pragmatic and could mean the beginning of a political process.
The name refers to the Schengen Treaty, a blast from the past, which led to the passport-free zone that covers most of Europe and was created outside the EU Treaties by a small group of countries. The suggestion here is to create a “multinational force” in the same way, whereupon in the future all interested parties can join-in. After Mogherini’s and the European Commission President Juncker’s multiple calls for unity, this force able to act arm in arm, under single command and with a common budget, is a wet dream for every Europhile.
“There is definitely movement is this direction,” says Dr. Wolfgang Wagner, Professor of International Security at the VU University Amsterdam. “It is a very popular way of thinking: more appealing to the broader public and a possible relief after not so pleasant dossiers like Brexit.”
As complete integration is an option that requires unanimity in the European Council, Britain’s leave-vote means that the idea has suddenly become more credible than ever. Britain’s most outspoken no-no against a common European defence policy is mostly based on the fear of unnecessarily duplicating NATO. According to Mogherini an unfounded dread, last July she stated: “The EU will step up its contribution to Europe’s collective security, working closely with its partners, beginning with NATO.”
The six founding members are understood to be proponents. According to Ms. Trineke Palm, doctoral researcher at the VU University Amsterdam: “Existing arrangements such as the German-Dutch or the Belgian-Dutch cooperation could be the building blocks for what has been referred to as a Schengen for Defence.”
Germany, for historical reasons still reluctant to take a rifle in hand, will be even more under the gun to take the leading role in the Common Security and Defence Policy. Their strong economic power can be translated into military power and ensures that German decisions will have a tremendous impact on Europe.
For France, Brexit is a double-edged sword. It loses an important partner in EU-decision making when it comes to armed conflicts. But Brexit also offers the opportunity to explicitly disconnect the EU military profile from NATO. Their ‘what we do ourselves, we do better attitude’ is definitely a scar from bygone days. After being abandoned by NATO during the Indochina war, it lost confidence in the US.
Disunity within Visegrad
Interesting is the division within the Visegrad countries. In contrast to pro-Russian Hungary en Slovakia, Poland and Czech Republic are suspicious about the possibility of an EU army that could replace NATO.
“The Polish view on a common military policy is very ambivalent,” says Dr. Wagner, referring to the political establishment which is nationalist, rather Eurosceptic and especially mistrustful of working together with Germany. “But Poland also realizes that its fortunate NATO protected position might not be forever.”
If Europe wants to sing from the same hymn sheet regarding defence, all member states will have to pay attention to each other’s national histories and security priorities.
For those with ants in their pants: future plans concerning military cooperation will be discussed by the European Council in December.