Last Friday in Bratislava, the Slovak capital, the 27 EU leaders met for the first time without the British Prime Minister. Reportedly they diagnosed that the Union has a grave problem, distancing itself from the people. Of course, the frustration of voters with the EU has not manifested itself just in the Brexit. Brussels have a lot more to worry about. According to Donald Tusk, the President of the EU Council, “People are concerned about, what they see, as lack of control, and express fears over migration, terrorism and last but not least, about their economic and social future”.
It’s a sign of degradation though that a Summit of the EU leaders was convened simply in order to repeat the truism about the Europeans not trusting Brussels any more. Not a word from the leaders about a structured and relevant strategy to confront the Union’s problems. In short, the meeting had all the boring characteristics of similar gatherings, with one exception however. Germany and France went on with their tactics to bulldoze the others. The South led by the Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi expressed dissatisfaction about economic growth and immigration, while the Visegard countries (Poland, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Hungary) as usually ostracized the EU’s immigration policy.
There was a novelty
Nevertheless, the 27EU leaders agreed on one very important matter. An informed reader going through Tusk’s account about what happened in Bratislava last Friday, will skip the usual wishful thinking about better opportunities for young Europeans and a waterproof Schengen zone. The reader will be struck by the determination expressed in the Summit about additional military structures.
After the Summit, the President of the Council said the EU leaders are determined “to strengthen EU cooperation on external security and defense. In December, the European Council will decide on how to make best use of the options available in the Treaties”. The haste expressed here is rather unusual for such an important issue. Looking in the Treaties to find a place for a new European army, for ‘external security and defense’ is not at all a small thing.
A brand new army
Unquestionably, this will be a new defense structure, because the EU already operates a military service. Today the European Union Military Committee conducts services in Mali, Somalia, South Sudan and elsewhere. The EUMC also manages an EU’s warship fleet in the Mediterranean, tasked with boarding all navigation to and from Libya and control the immigrant flows.
Tusk clearly stated that the EU will create now a new and obviously much stronger and more flexible defence structure than the existing one. Understandably, it will be built on the premises of the EUMC. This will very probably be in parallel with the mighty North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), but obviously the new EU’s own military structure will be completely independent from it. The absence of the British Prime Minister was a kind of green light for this new EU defense construction. Britain had been thoroughly vetoing any EU military initiative beyond the EUMC, because London believed it could get in the way of NATO.
Who wants to sell more arms?
No need to speculate who is behind this new EU defense initiative. France and Germany are by far the largest arm producers and exporters of the Union. Incidentally, the duo of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Holland met in private before and after the Bratislava Summit. On top of that, for the first time after the EU leaders’ meeting, the duo held a Press Conference, excluding every other head of government from it. Presumably, this was not only to show their peers who is in charge, but also to make sure that the message of the new military initiative is heard all over continental Europe, across the English Channel to London.
No wonder then, why Renzi after the Summit stated loudly that he was unsatisfied with the Summit’s conclusions about economic growth and immigration. Discontent with the Summit was also expressed by other EU leaders. The Hungarian Prime Minister, Victor Orban, delivered a philippic against the EU bureaucrats. He said that the Commission has “deceived” the leaders and asked the Commission to “show some respect for the people”. Obviously, apart from the new defence option, the EU is as divided as never before.
A landmark decision
Undoubtedly, the Bratislava EU Summit has set a precedent. Germany and France indirectly but very clearly clarified that they no longer care for a closer EU or about the cohesion of this club. If they did, they should have come up with an effective strategy to overcome the economic stagnation and the immigration deadlocks. Instead, Merkel and Hollande made sure that the Union is there to serve their countries’ interests, more so now when Britain is practically out of the game.
Alas, it’s a shame to watch Germany and France take care strictly only of their own national interests. Once upon a time they were the two locomotives, which drove Europe to prosperity and cohesion. Today they pay very little attention to similar matters as regards the entire club. The new military edifice is perceptibly planned to support the Franco-German defence industry and make sure that everybody else pays for that.