Is Europe really in crisis or could it be simply that the EU is currently not equal to the particular challenges it faces?
The absence of a common approach to the refugee problem due to national egotism and a lack of common values as well as differing conceptions of the importance of Schengen for combating terrorism; the impossibility of achieving essential progress in the field of the Common Security and Defence Policy because, thanks to the British Government, all efforts to improve European structures and capabilities have up until now been nipped in the bud; the impossibility of finding a satisfactory solution to the financial crisis while the wealth gap between north and south appears to be widening: these are but some of the many challenges confronting the EU all at the same time.
The British application to leave the EU has wreaked less havoc than was feared would be the case, but has been met with less understanding than expected.
The EU’s Bratislava Summit in September was a welcome call for more Europe, less nationalism and more confidence in the EU, for unless it is able to regain citizens’ trust the EU will fail. The great European goal of peace, freedom and prosperity is something that has to be fought for; it is not guaranteed. Thus Bratislava was an invitation to nations and citizens to join that effort and for the time being to lay aside national self-interest in favour of the higher aim of a common Europe.
Brexit offers some initial opportunities for improving European structures and capabilities. The planning and command capabilities that the EU is lacking could be quickly created in the form of a strategic
European mixed civil-military headquarters under the EU Military Committee (EUMC), which would enable the EU to conduct its own missions and at the same time to become an equal and reliable partner for
NATO. A structure could be created beneath that headquarters in order to give the EU operational command capabilities by calling upon existing multinational headquarters (operational headquarters) that could command the allocated forces. The 1996 Berlin Plus Agreement guaranteeing NATO support for the EU on request must remain in force.
So far the British Government has refused those plans. The EU needs to set about tackling these aims quickly, before the British have a change of heart and decide to abandon Brexit in the national interest.
The United States: Donald Trump’s populist electoral slogans about retiring from NATO leadership are a reminder to EU Member States that they are completely dependent on NATO, while in recent years there has
been a drastic shift of the US political and strategic engagement towards Asia and a growing trend towards isolationism. The development of a European defence is necessary not because of possible power shifts within NATO but because of Europe’s own weakness.
I am not afraid that the US will weaken itself by weakening its leading role in NATO. The new American President is going to learn what military power means and also the behaviour that must go hand in hand with it.
Hartmut Bühl, Editor-in-chief