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This past Monday, Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani stated that the EU needs to finally create an army. Tajani sees an EU army as necessary in order to be peacekeepers in the world. This however is not the first time the idea has been proposed, nor is it likely to be the last. A potential motive for this sudden urgency from Tajani is the EU elections which will be held between June 6th and 9th later this year. Following Silvio Berlusconi’s death, people question how viable the political party Forza Italia is, which Tajani leads. Creating an EU army gives Forza Italia a platform to run on in an attempt to rejuvenate the political party. Besides an army, Tajani also calls for simplifying leadership and having one president rather than splitting leadership between a European Council president and the European Commission President.
History Of EU Army Proposal
Tajani has not claimed, nor can he claim, credit for the idea of an EU Army. This is because the idea of an EU Army was first proposed by President of the French Council of Ministers, Rene Pleven in 1950. This was proposed as a way of avoiding a strong independent German army that could once again start another world war, but instead Germany would contribute to a unified army. Fast-forwarding in time yet still remaining in France, President Macron considered the idea of an EU Army to be a priority, yet this faded in the context of the Invasion of Ukraine. Instead, President Macron favoured unified European Defense with NATO. This is in stark contrast to 2018 when Macron claimed an EU army was necessary to defend the EU from Russia, China, and possibly even the United States as a snide remark to insult former President Trump. This puts Tajani’s comments at odds with Macron who seemed to accept that an EU army would not be created.
NATO Membership Of EU Member States
One issue for relying on NATO For the defense of the EU is that not all EU member states are members of NATO. Sweden is currently negotiating accession but has not yet officially joined. Austria, Cyprus and Ireland are currently not members of NATO, nor do these nations have aspirations to join for the time being. This leaves them vulnerable to attacks from other nations such as Russia. Ireland and Austria are not members due to their status as neutral states, yet debate has increased whether they should reconsider remaining neutral. This is particularly an issue for Ireland, which invests the lowest proportion of its GDP on defense. Ireland currently lacks the ability to accurately identify all aircraft that pass through Irish airspace. Russia was bold enough to plan a military exercise only 240 kilometers off the coast of Ireland in early 2022. In the end, Russia moved the military exercise a week before it occurred, yet its plan shows the boldness of Russia. Unfortunately for Ireland, it is currently very inept to respond to a potential attack.
Austria on the other hand is a bit trickier of a case. Unlike Ireland, Austria’s neutrality is codified in its constitution. Austria passed its constitutional law on neutrality in 1955 and Article 1 explicitly prohibits Austria from joining a military alliance, such as NATO. The government would need to repeal this law before it could even start the accession process to NATO. Given its geographical location, it would be a bit more difficult for Russia to attack compared to Ireland.
The challenges facing Cyprus are even worse than the previous two. This is a result of its frozen conflict. The island of Cyprus remains split between the Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Turkey sought to advance its interests by utilising the NATO applications of Finland and Sweden, extending beyond the goal of ensuring the preparedness of both nations to join the bloc. This raises the possibility that Turkey might also oppose Cyprus’ admission to NATO.Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974 to protect Turkish Cypriots following Greece’s plan to annex the island. Despite no current attempt to annex Cyprus to Greece, Turkey refuses to allow Northern Cyprus to be integrated into Cyprus and is currently the only nation that recognizes Northern Cyprus as an independent nation. While becoming a member of NATO could help ensure the safety of both Greek and Turkish Cypriots, this is unlikely to happen any time soon.
Russia’s Criticism Of Proposed Army
Russia, as expected, is not enthused with the idea of an EU army. It becomes very clear however that Russia is not actually concerned about the wellbeing of the European Union, but instead does not want a unified military opposition from the EU. In an attempt to redirect the EU’s attention elsewhere, Russia claims the EU should instead prioritize the development of an EU Covid-19 vaccine, ensure that the EU is humane with its strategy of border protection and follow international agreements regarding the matter, along with solving the refugee and migrant crisis.
The irony of this is that Russia is culpable of weaponizing migrants against the EU for its support of Ukraine against Putin’s invasion. Finland completely closed its border as a result of Russia directing migrants to try to cross into Finland from Russia, despite not having visas. This started on November 22nd, and people trying to illegally enter Finland has become such a significant issue that the border now remains closed until at least January 14th. Finland alleges that Russia has been distributing bicycles, primarily children bicycles to help aid migrants get to the border. Fortunately for Finland, it officially became a member of NATO on July 5th, 2022 so while Russia can try to threaten Finland with migrants, it likely is not bold enough to invade Finland as it has invaded Ukraine. This can be seen with flights from Middle East to Belarus.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova was also bold enough to suggest that the United States would interfere with the creation of an EU army. Zakharova alleges that American President Biden would weaponize fuel prices to manipulate the European Union in order to get its proposed army to fall in line with American interests. This is an interesting critique coming from a nation which punished Moldova with higher energy prices for favouring future integration into the EU as a member state rather than deepening its relationship with Russia.
While the European Union should carefully plan how a European Union army would be created, it is unlikely to take any advice from Russia seriously. If anything, by trying to push back on the idea of an EU army, Russia has admitted that it is a cause of concern for the Russian government. Unfortunately for the EU, an EU army has already been proposed for over seven decades yet still has not yet been created. It will take a lot of political will in order to finally achieve the seemingly impossible, and it is unclear whether the will exists amongst all member states to make it happen.
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