Daniel Kawczynski is MP for Shrewsbury and Atcham.
At Theresa May’s first Prime Minister’s Questions, I raised the issue of the need – despite Brexit – for ongoing and, if possible, closer counterterrorism cooperation between Britain and EU member states. The appalling attacks in Nice, followed by a spate of terrorist atrocities across Europe, mean that such cooperation with our European partners must continue unabated. And this not only involves sharing information, but also requires the pooling of resources, to take on this growing threat, collectively.
A good example of successful EU cooperation in this area – involving the Royal Navy – is Operation Atlanta, set up to counter Somali-based piracy off the Horn of Africa, and in the Western Indian Ocean. Working together on defence industry and procurement is another. The assets that Britain has in these areas are second to none. I am convinced that the Prime Minister will find willing ears on the continent, in spite of post-referendum bluster by the likes of Jean-Claude Juncker.
The more I listen to him, the more I am convinced it is best to ignore the Commission president, and his sidekick in the European Parliament, Martin Schulz. They do not stand for what most EU member countries and their electorates want. They are a mouthpiece for the narrow interests of EU institutions in Brussels, which, like most government institutions, are pre-programmed to stretch their mission statements, and to extend their powers.
That explains why Juncker is an enthusiastic proponent of the creation of a fully-fledged EU army: something which takes the laudable idea of security cooperation – crucial in itself – to the very extreme. He says that an EU army is needed to defend our values against the Russians. This is as opportunistic a piece of rhetoric as you will ever hear coming out of Brussels. Juncker has opposed Russian sanctions. And, this spring, he was Putin’s guest of honour at the sleek St Petersburg Economic Forum: an annual event – billed as Russia’s Davos – to brandish the country’s economic credentials to international investors. Now, he needs the spectre of the Russian Bear to sell his idea of an EU army to sceptical Europeans.
The idea of an EU army also emerged at the recent Merkel, Hollande, and Renzi meeting, held aboard an Italian aircraft carrier just off the Mediterranean island of Ventotene. As widely reported, this was a most symbolic choice of venue. Having been exiled to the island by Mussolini in 1941, Altiero Spinelli – one of the EU’s famous founding fathers – used his time there to write the so-called ‘Ventotene Manifesto’: an inspired pamphlet calling for Europe’s federal unification after the war.
Now Britain is leaving the Union, it would appear that EU leaders feel a need to breathe new life into their project, and to rediscover the original vision, popularity, and passion for the ‘European ideal’, which has lost much of its lustre everywhere. Moreover, insight is emerging on the continent – belatedly – that the EU needs do more to protect its citizens, and to bolster their sense of security. That sense of security has been deeply shaken by the vaporisation of national borders, by waves of migrants, by suicide bombings, and by the banking crises and the broader economic impact of globalisation.
It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the old notion of an EU army or defence force has now resurfaced as a panacea. What could be better for our security than a common European army? But, while the EU does need to reinvent itself to repair peoples’ sense of security – by getting serious about defending its external borders, for example – plans for an EU army remain barmy and ramshackle as ever.
Europeans are fooling themselves if they believe that once Britain is out, they can make swift progress towards establishing an effective EU army, as if only British intransigence stood in the way of an otherwise splendid and noble idea. A range of other obstacles need to be cleared, and none of them have anything to do with Britain’s EU membership.
A formidable number of EU states – mostly, but not just, Eastern European – oppose the creation of a fully fledged EU army – something which would inevitably divide and compete with NATO. Those states know that their strategic interests are best served by preserving strong transatlantic ties. Even with Britain on board, and working seamlessly together, EU states would hardly be able to conduct significant military operations without the United States — let alone form a sufficient deterrent to Moscow.