Exercise Trident Juncture (Picture: NATO).

What Is A 'European Army' And Could It Become A Reality?

Exercise Trident Juncture (Picture: NATO).

Exercise Trident Juncture took place in Norway involving 31 nations (Picture: NATO).

By Forces News Defence correspondent, James Hirst

Last week, President Macron said Europe needs to protect itself against "China, Russia and even the United States" in terms of cyberspace.

Later, President Macron reiterated that Europe needs to build up its own military because it can no longer depend on the US for defence.

This angered US President Donald Trump and the two leaders met in Paris to try and diffuse tensions over the comments.

And, as further details surrounding Brexit continue to be delivered, is a European Army really possible?

James Hirst has been looking at the key questions.

President Trump and President Macron meeting earlier this year
President Trump was critical of President Macron's suggestions over a European army (Picture: PA).

What exactly is this 'European Army' that’s being proposed?

So far, there is absolutely no detail, beyond the phrase ‘true European Army’. 

That phrase was used this week first by the French President and then the German Chancellor. 

They both think it’s time for the concept to become reality, but a lot of details would have to be decided and agreed for that to happen.

Troops on Exercise Trident Juncture
Exercise Trident Juncture was designed to test capability and interoperability between nations.

What are the unanswered questions?

How big would it be?

Would it have its own troops or contributions from individual countries?

How would command and control work?

How would political decisions on the use of the Army be made?

…we could go on.

Doesn’t the EU already do military operations?

We have seen EU-led military operations for years, including naval missions dealing with piracy and people smuggling, or land operations in the Balkans and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The forces for these have only ever been put together on a case-by-case basis.

Under the 'Common Security and Defence Policy', European Union military operations can be called for peace-keeping, conflict prevention and strengthening international security.

Under the policy, the EU can only pay for civil operations, military and defence ones must be paid for directly by members.

Exercise Trident Juncture
Around 50,000 troops from across NATO took part in Trident Juncture (Picture: NATO).

So the EU doesn’t have any of its own military forces yet?

Yes and no.

It certainly has some military structures, including a military staff in the 'European External Action Service'.

There are also more than a dozen EU multinational battlegroups, but they have never been deployed.

That’s despite two of them (totalling 3,000 people) being on standby at any time.

They can only be deployed if every EU member approves, that unanimous political backing has never happened.

So how would an EU Army be any different?

That’s not clear, we need lots of answers including to those questions above.

But there’s already been work done to get round the political problems.

A year ago, most EU members signed up to a legally binding deal to deepen defence co-operation and provide a plan for national contributions.

The Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) is part of the EU's defence policy where 25 of the member militaries pursue integration.

PESCO already has 17 projects including some common training and exercises, development of operational domains and capabilities.

Five EU members, including the UK and Ireland, opted out of PESCO.

Mr Macron with German Chancellor, Angela Merkel (Picture: PA).
France and Germany have both expressed their favour over the idea of a European army (Picture: PA).

Why do France and Germany want a European Army when there’s already NATO?

NATO is dominated by the US, which holds the most political power and firepower because it spends most on defence.

It looks like the Trump-era has got them thinking that Europe might be heading in a different direction to America and needs to build a multinational capability outside of NATO.

French President Emmanuel Macron said Europe was the loser in President Trump’s decision to pull out of a missile treaty with Russia, and went on stating: "We need a Europe which defends itself better alone without just depending on the United States, in a more sovereign manner."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said it is "not an army against NATO, but it can be a good addition for NATO".

What does NATO make of it?

In truth, it’s not keen.

NATO, like America, wants European countries to build up their defence capabilities and rely less on the US.

But it’s worried what will happen is doubling up of NATO structures and the EU competing with NATO for military resources.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told a conference in Berlin: "More European efforts on defence is great but it should never undermine the strength of the transatlantic bond.

"The reality is that we need one strong and capable command structure, we can’t divide those resources in two."

US tanks on Trident Juncture
Donald Trump has expressed his concerns over the United States' defence contribution compared to other countries (Picture: JFC Brunssum Imagery via US Department of Defense).

Has this got anything to do with Brexit?

Britain has long opposed moves to an EU Army, preferring to focus on NATO.

The impending departure of the UK from the table in Brussels could make it easier for the EU to agree to the creation of a European Army.

Brexit might also have focussed minds in Brussels, without the UK the vast majority of NATO’s defence spending will come from outside the EU and that could reduce the bloc’s influence in any NATO talks.

Will a European Army actually happen?

I’ll point you back to the first answer – a lot of details need to not only be decided but also agreed for this to happen.

It is though clearly on the agenda, and with the EU’s two biggest powers behind the push, it will probably get some serious consideration and effort.

Watch this space.