Leaders of the European Union unveiled a new plan on Thursday allowing for greater military cooperation among member states. In addition to a shared defense fund, countries will be able to contribute troops for a coalition force without the approval of all the member states.
Finally, the European Union is moving toward more robust military cooperation. The fear of a military force controlled by EU bureaucrats (Eurocrats, if you will) overriding the sovereignty of member states has been a major concern for nationalist/Euroskeptic parties across Europe. On the other hand, pro-EU people have been emphasizing the need for more defense cooperation for some time, with the growing threats of Russia and terrorism being the main things on their minds.
As with anything, there is a range of groups involved in and they all had something to gain or lose. Let’s break it down.
European Union Leadership
Mutual defense cooperation is definitely a big step forward in terms of the EU’s power relative to individual countries. Perhaps the biggest feature of this deal is that it allows EU leadership to move forward with establishing and EU coalition force without needing 100% agreement from the EU, which puts a great deal more power in the hands of the larger, more dominant EU countries like Germany, France, Italy, and Spain.
Specifically, the European defense industry. The European Commission has committed to at least $1.69 billion in defense spending per year, which is expected to increase gradually until 2020. Since the equipment purchased will remain the property of the national governments, it’s kind of a no-brainer for the larger countries with room to increase their defense budget, especially with You Know Who breathing down their necks about increasing their defense spending.
Macron was a big proponent of this agreement, or one like it, since his days on the campaign trail. He’s the President, and his party just won big in French parliament, so he’s got a big fat mandate to commit some serious cash and eventually troops over the next 6-12 years. And, he doesn’t need to worry about an election for six more years, so he can really allow this thing to develop before the voters have to judge him on it. As if enough things weren’t going well for this guy, the UK’s eventual exit from the EU (or will they?) means that France is the undisputed top dog militarily, so Macron is bound to take a leader role in any future joint-EU activities.
Vladimir Putin has been makin’ eyes at Ukraine and the rest of Eastern Europe for some time now. While Ukraine is not a member of the European Union, its government has entered into an economic agreement with the EU and supposedly plans to apply for EU membership by 2020, which might be enough to warrant EU military intervention should Putin invade the rest of Ukraine. The Baltic States that are EU members – Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia – are definitely sleeping a lot better tonight knowing that they will definitely have EU support in case of an attack.
The Nationalists and Euroskeptic Parties
Clearly, the “wave” of nationalism sweeping through Europe hasn’t swept enough to stop the EU, its main enemy, from doing whatever it wants. If you ask me, it doesn’t look like the far-right strategy of outraging most people is working very well in Europe (though in America it’s a different story). They seem to have limited electoral potential but they rarely have the chance to get into government because the other parties don’t want to sit with them. The parties will need to start bringing home results if they want to stay relevant and not get co-opted by more mainstream conservative parties.
As mentioned earlier, a more unified EU is not good news for Putin’s warmongering ambitions. There’s no way of knowing how much pressure he is under, but hearing news of protests coming out of Russia isn’t a good sign for Putin, given that he’s usually very good at suppressing news of dissent. So he probably has left wing protesters getting on him about his socially conservative policies and government corruption, and right-wing oligarchs getting on him about expanding their economic and territorial influence in Eastern Europe. He seems like he has it all together, but regimes can topple in the blink of an eye and I’m staying woke to that.
Didn’t win didn’t lose
On the one hand, Trump is going to get what he wants from these countries when they increase their defense spending. He can tout this as a diplomatic victory when it suits him, but he can’t be happy that there might be a coalition military force in Europe that’s completely without official American leadership. If there’s ever a rift in attitude toward Russia between the US and the EU, the EU will have the ability to act unilaterally against Russia even if it’s against whatever Trump’s Russian interests are. I highly doubt it will come to that anytime soon, though, and certainly not during Trump’s first term, so at the end of the day Trump probably just has some more dudes to help fight ISIS.
While this deal is certainly a political victory for Merkel, you can never be certain about a country’s initial reaction to a deal like this. It’s not that likely, but it could create a reaction that might give some steam to Euroskeptics. The bigger problem for Merkel, however, is that, since Germany’s military capabilities are constitutionally limited, this deal gives the French the chance to dominate a large aspect of EU leadership, which will be a major check on Germany’s power. The splitting of power between France and Germany is, of course, the main reason the EU exists, so while it’s inconvenient for Merkel it’s good for the world.