EU Chief Von der Leyen Says Europe Must Build the ‘Political Will’ for an EU Army

NEUSTADT AM RUEBENBERGE , GERMANY - JUNE 29: German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen chats with soldiers of the Bundeswehr, the German armed forces, following a demonstration of capabilities of Panzergranadierbataillon 33 of the 1st Panzer Division (1. Panzerdivision) that included the new Puma infantry fighting vehicle on June …
Sean Gallup/Getty Images

The European Union needs to build the “political will” to craft an army of its own, President Ursula von der Leyen said in her State of the Union speech on Wednesday.

Addressing the European Parliament in Brussels, the EU Commission chief said that in the wake of President Joe Biden’s disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, the bloc should look towards the formation of a “European Defence Union”.

“In the last weeks, there have been many discussions on expeditionary forces. On what type and how many we need: battlegroups or EU entry forces. This is no doubt part of the debate – and I believe it will be part of the solution,” von der Leyen said.

“But the more fundamental issue is why this has not worked in the past… What has held us back until now is not just a shortfall of capacity – it is the lack of political will.

“And if we develop this political will, there is a lot that we can do at EU level.”

The former German defence minister argued for a more centralised command structure of the militaries of Europe rather than what she termed as the “fragmented” system in place now, saying: “This is why the EU could consider its own Joint Situational Awareness Centre to fuse all the different pieces of information.”

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, Germany’s current defence minister, hailed the speech, writing: “Ursula von der Leyen is right… Real EU defence depends on the political will of member states. That’s why Germany and France must lead.”

The speech from the EU President comes amid a growing consensus in Brussels for a fully-fledged EU Army in the wake of Afghanistan.

Last Month, leading Eurocrat and former Belgian prime minister, Guy Verhofstad wrote: “Afghanistan once more shows armies are crucial to the security of our citizens [and] allies abroad.

“EU countries need to do that together: cooperate & integrate forces so our people, interests [and] values are protected. Think beyond taboos or caricatures: an EU army is common sense!”

The president of the European Council, Charles Michel has also hinted that the European Union should look to increasing its military capabilities, calling for more “strategic autonomy“ for the bloc.

Mr Michel noted that “a military power made up of twenty-seven nations”  was unable to “independently guarantee—without the backing of the United States— the necessary assistance to evacuate its citizens and the Afghans who supported them.”

Noticing the turn in opinion in Brussels, the Secretary-General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg said that while he would be in favour of more European nations stepping up their defence spending, he said an EU Army “can never replace” the alliance between North America and Europe.

“Any attempt to weaken the bond between North America and Europe will not only weaken Nato, it will divide Europe,” Mr Stoltenberg added.

Brexit leader Nigel Farage — who was mocked during the 2016 EU Referendum for spreading “conspiracy theories” about the spectre of an EU Army — also criticised the growing push for a militarised union.

Speaking to The Express, Mr Frarage said: “Of course, they’re using the damage Biden has done to NATO as an excuse to do this. But they’ve always wanted an EU army.”

“I challenged Nick Clegg on this publicly on a head-to-head debate in 2014 where he absolutely denied emphatically that it was ever going to happen, but it is.

The Brexit leader said he doesn’t believe an EU Army would work, as he noted most countries in the bloc already fail to meet their NATO spending requirements. However, Farage warned that “whatever they decide”, the United Kingdom “must not join it, absolutely not join it.”

Follow Kurt Zindulka on Twitter here @KurtZindulka

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