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Juncker’s Blinckers

Jean-Claude Juncker’s ‘State of the Union’ speech – the very title belies the obsession of the European Union (EU) institutional elite with emulating the true global power on the other side of the Atlantic – shows that he remains oblivious, consciously or otherwise, to what is going on around him. Like a cart horse wearing blinkers to ward off the distractions of the real world, he plods relentlessly and single-mindedly towards the only thing that motivates him. For the cart horse the reward is something tangible and well-established, a handful of carrots, a large bag of hay and a comfortable stable for the night. For Juncker it is the ideological, intellectual concept of a federal United States of Europe, the reality of which becomes more remote by the day.

In his speech, Juncker does a good job of describing the many and varied challenges facing the member states and other European countries, but his solution to all these is the Pavlovian response we have now come to expect – more Europe. The problems in Syria? Simple, give Federica Mogherini a seat at the table and call her the EU’s Foreign Minister, speaking on behalf of all member states. Perhaps Mr Juncker has forgotten that we went round that buoy several times before the Treaty of Lisbon. Perhaps he thinks that the Brexit vote (which, incidentally, has at present done nothing to change the UK’s institutional position as a full EU member state) will mean that such a proposal will instantly command widespread support. I am afraid the blinkers are on again.

The migrant crisis facing the European mainland? Simple, we should create a European Travel Information System: ‘an automated system to determine who will be allowed to travel to Europe. This way we will know who is travelling to Europe before they even get here’. Is this the same man who just weeks ago was calling for the abolition of frontiers in Europe, even as some countries are building walls along their borders?

And then, inevitably and predictably, comes the Juncker solution to Europe’s need to be able to deploy hard power more effectively – more institutions. I have written elsewhere at length about the dangers of the EU setting up its own planning and command structures, duplicating the tried and tested working arrangements in NATO, to which twenty-two member states belong as full Alliance members with a further five in the Partnership for Peace. An EU Operational Headquarters (OHQ) with rival planning and command functions to those of the Alliance would place intolerable strains on the defence staffs of capitals.

Juncker suggests that new structures could work ‘in full complementarity with NATO’ demonstrating a lamentable lack of appreciation of the efforts made over the last thirteen years to deliver the Berlin Plus arrangements for EU-NATO co-operation. Setting up a parallel planning and command structure would do little to help the welcome positive steps made by Mogherini and Stoltenberg in recent months. As Juncker points out, the EU has conducted more than thirty missions, each one judged a success, the military elements commanded from competent national or NATO headquarters. There is no need for more bureaucracy.

‘Europe’, says Juncker, ‘can no longer afford to piggy-back on the military might of others, or let France alone defend its honour in Mali’. There are good reasons for the Europeans to keep the United States, with its overwhelming military superiority, in a warm embrace. Since the EU set up its security and defence policy (as a result of the UK-French initiative at Saint-Malo in 1998) the measurable improvement in member states’ military capability has been minimal.

Juncker calls for more co-operation between member states in developing capability. The European Defence Agency – another UK-French initiative – has been trying to persuade member states to undertake more collaboration since 2004. The limits to the success it has enjoyed have been due not to the UK’s refusal to increase its operating budget, but to the lack of willingness on the part of member states to invest in defence capability rather than education, housing, health, social security and other popular vote winners. Recent commitments to raise defence spending to the long aspired-to target of 2% of GDP have been in response to NATO, rather than EU exhortations, in the face of Russian sabre rattling. Does Mr Juncker fancy the chances of the European countries taking on Russia on their own? I sincerely hope that President Trump does not offer us the opportunity to find out.

Even if the Europeans did develop more robust capabilities, there is no evidence to suggest that they would volunteer them to a greater extent than they already have to assist French efforts in Mali, which many member states evidently regard as interventionism in pursuit of largely French interests. They have been willing – under pressure – to lend political support and some military effort, but on the whole they have been content to let France do the heavy lifting. Elsewhere the military forces of the member states continue to do their best to deliver capability within budgetary constraints, and to show considerable skill and courage in the field when they are deployed. But the political appetite for engagement abroad in the aftermath of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and now Syria is sadly lacking in European capitals, including London.

I voted on 23 June for the UK to remain a member of the EU. It is a flawed institution, but the best way to improve it is from within. Many of those who voted to leave did so through frustration with the Brussels elites many of whom, like Juncker, strut and preen on the world stage, adding little real value and heedless of grass roots opinion. He has, he proudly tells us, lived and worked for the European project his whole life, which both explains his obsession and illustrates his unsuitability for the job. An EU OHQ would create more people like him, well paid, with comfortable offices, apartments, drivers and staffs, attending important meetings and summits (why was Juncker at the G20, I wonder?) and keeping large numbers of people occupied with planning and briefing tasks who could be much better employed elsewhere. The cost, ultimately, would be exorbitant.

The policy of the UK government, by whom I was employed at the time, was to support the Lisbon Treaty. I now believe that it was a treaty too far, creating new institutions and structures which, rather than streamlining and improving the functioning of the Union as intended, have simply reinforced the ‘us and them’ mentality between the Union bureaucracies and the Member States. Where that affects internal EU matters it is bad enough. Where such proposals threaten transatlantic defence relationships and the capacity of the Europeans to respond to increasingly serious threats to their security at home and abroad, they must be recognised for what they are, and resisted.

Vol. 8, No. 21 (2016)

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