There have been a lot of ungrounded scare stories during the EU debate and one of these that has reared its ugly head lately is the idea that there is a plan for an EU army. That British soldiers might fight under an EU flag is one of these exaggerated myths designed to frighten rather than communicate clearly what the EU is about.
It is true that there are EU politicians who would like to see a unified European Army. However, in what typifies the democratic structure of the European Union, any merging of forces cannot happen without the consent of all 28 countries in the EU agreeing to it. Article 42 of the Lisbon Treaty (which is fully public) states that what it calls ‘a common defence’ would require unanimity in the European Council, meaning that every single government would have to agree to it. The UK even has an extra clause – if our government did in fact wish to merge an EU army, any proposal on defence mergers must be put to a UK referendum so that we’d get the final say directly.
Current EU military efforts remain tentative and are largely intergovernmental rather than EU-based, and the Common Security and Defence Policy entails few obligations. Current projects include training anti-jihadists in Mali and disrupting human traffickers in the Mediterranean. Countries can veto each operation and largely decide how much to contribute on a case-by-case basis. EU military staff do not become part of an EU military bur remain employed by their national governments operating on secondment to the EU military staff.
If we remain in the EU after 23rd June, little is set to change without our consent, and this level of cooperation will continue. Obviously, it is impossible to say what the outcome of negotiations over security cooperation would be in the event that we leave, however it is worth noting that as we are arguably the country most opposed to any
‘EU army’, so leaving could actually make it more likely.
The European Gendarmerie Force or EUROGENDFOR is not an EU body, but its stated aim is to participate to the stabilisation of crisis and conflict areas outside the European Union. It only has 7 member countries, and the UK is not one. It has not been deployed in any EU country. It is currently engaged in the Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan, and missions in Central African Republic and Sahel Mali and was previously deployed in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in the UN mission in Haiti, as well as in a NATO mission Afghanistan. The Bosnia-Herzegovina mission remained under the control of the ambassadors of EU countries but was led by British former soldier Paddy Ashdown as High Representative. Ashdown worked to strengthen the central state institutions, bringing in statewide legal bodies such as State Investigation and Protection Agency and bringing the two ethnic armies under a central civilian command.
So the claim that the EU could somehow create an EU army against British will and behind closed doors is utterly untrue. There is also no prospect of British soldiers fighting under an EU flag. It is likely that we will continue to cooperate in military operations where we have common objectives and where cooperation can help to achieve these.