RD Interview: Dmitry Danilov, head of the European Security Department at the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences, explains why a common European Army is far from reality.

French president Francois Hollande reviews troops at the army base and command centre for France's anti-terror plan at the fort of Vincennes, on the outskirts of Paris, July 25. Photo: AP

Within the EU, the idea of forming a common European Army has recently been revitalized. Most recently, it was discussed at the recent unofficial EU summit in Bratislava. France and Germany hope to use this idea to cement European unity during a time of crisis. However, there is a lot of skepticism about this initiative. While it is still only at the discussion level, it is worth examining the prospects for a common European Army.

With that in mind, Russia Direct talked to Dmitry Danilov, head of the European Security Department at the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Also read: "The pros and cons of a European Army"

Russia Direct: What are the reasons behind this idea to create a common European Army and what are the odds of it becoming a reality?

Dmitry Danilov: The entire idea of a common European army appeared in the 1950s during the first years of European integration. It was even stipulated in the agreement, which eventually was not ratified and European integration started as an economic project. The whole idea to integrate European armed forces pursued quite clear goals – to prevent any chance of another war in Europe and to be autonomous enough to defend itself.

As a result, European defense was defined in the EU treaty documents, including the Lisbon treaty. At the same time, the struggle between the Atlanticist (those who see European defense tied to the U.S. and NATO) and Europe-centric (those who support an independent European defense) camps was always in place.

The Europe-centric camp was headed by France and Germany who argued that Europe should undertake deeper integration of the military. At the same time, the Atlanticists, headed by the United Kingdom, claimed that European defense capabilities are limited anyways, and Europe needs U.S. security guarantees. They further argued that Europe should not duplicate already existing NATO structures, to avoid undermining the unity of the alliance.

This collision was in place for quite a long time and about two years ago, the discussion on the European common security project revived on the political-diplomatic level. In many ways it was due to the shift of intra-European balance of power towards the Weimar triangle (France, Germany, Poland) which further was backed by Italy, Spain, etc. They intended to move towards real defense integration.

One of the main impetuses for such intentions was the weakness of the European military-industrial complex and its low competitiveness. This is why it was clear for Europe that in order to have a competitive military-industrial complex, it needs integration in that sphere.

However, the serious imbalances inside Europe hindered any progress in that direction. Defense integration was not in the UK interests, as it is more oriented towards military-industrial cooperation with the U.S. This is why London rebuffed the project of military integration. Paris and Berlin in response articulated, if the UK is not ready to support their integration ideas after all, they are going to move forward without it. So, this position appeared and was in place before Brexit.

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Besides, an opportunity for such a move towards military integration exists and it goes in line with the Lisbon treaty. There are articles in the treaty about advanced cooperation in the military sphere, although they are not utilized.

RD: Do you see that the Russian threat to Europe is used to justify Europe’s plans to create its own European Army and increase the support for it?

D.D.: It is important to remember that today’s EU security strategy is formulated within NATO’s framework. All EU members that put their signatures on NATO documents since the Wales summit in 2014 cannot conduct their defense policy with structures and institutions other than NATO. This is why EU countries will follow NATO’s strategy where Russia is seen as a major threat to European security.

Another factor is that currently the so-called anti-Russian group within the EU became strengthened. It might be called the Polish-Baltic group, as those countries are at the core and also countries of North Europe that share their concerns. The position of this particular group is quite simple and clear: They have become NATO members to be protected by NATO from Russia. And they use the Ukrainian crisis as evidence and justification for their security concerns. This factor must be taken into account because it might lead to the increase of the controversy inside the EU on the issue of the Russian threat. In fact, it may result in further erosion of the unity within the EU.

RD: What could be the consequences for Russia if the European Army were created? How will it affect Russia’s relations with the EU and the EU’s relations with NATO?

D.D.: First, it is premature to talk about consequences for Russia because, in fact, there are no talks today about common European defense as some real functioning project. So far there is a discussion about declaration of intention. In my view, there are almost no prospects for the formation of the common European defense in the foreseeable future.

There are many questions and obstacles to the process of European integration in the military field. EU currently does not have required sources (political, technical, financial) to build a collective military, and without the UK, it becomes even more difficult. Another question is why the U.S. would be interested and supportive of this European project? If NATO is in place, then, what are the goals and tasks for such a common European defense project? Why does the EU need resources to develop its own European Defense if its members cannot fully meet their financial requirements within NATO?

Second, despite all the sanctions and tensions, the EU is one of the most important partners of Russia. And Russia is trying to restore its normal relations with the EU, not only in the economic field, but also in the political. Besides, security and defense dialogue between Russia and the EU have always been a crucial part of bilateral relations. If today the EU becomes more dependent on NATO and has no ability to be autonomous in its decisions, it is a big issue for Russia. Russia is indeed interested in an independent and autonomous EU.

Also read: "Is a European Army coming soon? Don't bet on it"

RD: So, is it correct to say that it is in Russia’s interest to support Europe in its plans to create the common army because it would make the EU more independent in its decision-making?

D.D.: It is correct and it was done exactly so until now. When the EU and NATO reached new agreements in recent years we need to understand one important thing. If the EU decides to go ahead with its military project, it means it has to organize its own military planning, budget, etc. This poses a question: What will be the conceptual basis for it, what will be the strategic goal? But the fact is that everything is already in place and enshrined in NATO’s documents that are signed by the EU. Moreover, all those points are already duplicated by the EU itself in its Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy.

This is why the question is not whether or not the EU will achieve autonomy in its decision-making, but rather, in what direction the EU will concentrate its efforts. And this is quite clear that the focus will remain on increasing EU input in the Euro-Atlantic strategy formulated by the U.S. and NATO. This is why it is quite an unfavorable prospect.