macron paris
French President Emmanuel Macron speaks at the Arc de Triomphe during a ceremony for the 100th anniversary of the November 1918 armistice.Ludovic Marin/Pool Photo via AP
  • France has led calls for great integration on defense and security issues among EU members.
  • For French President Emmanuel Macron, the goal is a more sovereign EU that can act with more independence from the US. 
  • The EU has made steps toward strategic autonomy, but not all its members embrace the concept or even see it the same way.

French President Emmanuel Macron wants the European Union to become a truly sovereign actor in world affairs. To achieve this he is calling for a stronger joint approach to European defense and security.

Macron has repeatedly bemoaned the EU's inability to guarantee its own security independently of the US, and he hopes to use France's current six-month rotation as president of the Council of the EU, the body which charts the political priorities of the bloc, to promote European strategic autonomy.

Aux armes citoyens

EUFOR-RCA European Union soldiers
French soldiers with the EUFOR-RCA European Union force in Bangui, Central African Republic, May 1, 2014.ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP via Getty Images

The concept of European strategic autonomy gained in prominence during President Donald Trump's tenure due to his ambivalence toward NATO. The US's withdrawal from Afghanistan in August and the announcement of the Australia-UK-US defense pact in September — which drew French ire — brought the concept to the forefront again.

Following the AUKUS announcement, Macron tellingly said that Europe should take care of its own protection.

During his latest speech at the European Parliament on January 19, in which he outlined the priorities of the French Council of the EU presidency, Macron named security as a main challenge for the continent.

He linked the promise of future progress for Europe to the bloc's ability to "find an answer to geopolitical disorder, terrorist threats, cyber-attacks and irregular immigration."

Alluding to current tensions in Eastern Europe, where Russia has massed forces along the Ukrainian border, Macron added that "to face this return of tragedy in history, Europe needs to arm itself; not in mistrust of other powers, no, but to ensure its independence in this world of violence, to not simply be subject to the choices of others: in order to be free."

Although the concept of European strategic autonomy is not embraced by all EU members, the bloc has made steps toward defense and security integration.

Shambling forward

Germany army Leopard tanks
German Leopard 2 tanks in Vilseck, January 29, 2019.US Army/Gertrud Zach

In 2017, the EU established the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) framework to promote cooperation on security and defense projects between its members and to increase their capacity to participate in multinational force groups. Sixty projects are currently being developed under PESCO.

In further support of European research and development in defense technology, the EU established the $8.9 billion European Defense Fund in 2021.

To strengthen the European defense industry, enhance EU members' security integration, and promote strategic autonomy, France and Germany announced in 2017 the creation of the Future Combat Air System that aims to jointly develop a next-generation European fighter aircraft. Spain has since joined the program.

Additionally, in 2018 Macron proposed and created the European Intervention Initiative (E2I) which aims to create a common EU strategic culture. Thirteen EU members have since joined E2I.

Finally, in March 2022 the EU is set to adopt its Strategic Compass. This guiding document will delineate the security threats the bloc faces on multiple levels.

Significantly, a draft of the Strategic Compass calls for the development of a 5,000-strong EU rapid-deployment force, and rapid deployment capacity is a key element of the document, according to the EU's chiefs of defense.

However, creating a viable rapid-deployment force — essentially an embryonic EU army— will not be easy.

An army of Babel

Eurocorps soldiers at European Parliament in Strasbourg
Eurocorps soldiers at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, May 19, 2019,PATRICK HERTZOG/AFP via Getty Images

Discussion of an EU rapid-deployment force "accelerated" after the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan and the collapse of the government there, Jason Moyer, an associate at Wilson Center's Global Europe Program, told Insider.

But setting up such a force and making it operationally viable will require overcoming the oftentimes divergent security and geopolitical interests of the EU members.

"The question over the efficacy of such a force is what would the criteria and objectives for deploying it [be] and how long would it take to decide" whether to deploy it, Moyer added.

Lengthy deliberations and politicking over the force's use could damage its operational ability and effectiveness. But this is not the only hurdle ahead for a common EU defense.

The largest obstacle that further European defense and security integration faces are the divergent interests of EU members, Moyer said. Those differences are seen in the response to the current standoff between Russia and the West over Ukraine.

"As the EU weighs options to support Ukraine and deter Russian aggression, member states cannot agree over what course of action to follow or how far to take matters," Moyer said.

Although Eastern European members favor a tougher line against Moscow, other EU states are more conciliatory, especially Germany.

To deter Russia, which many European countries see as their chief antagonist, even a capable rapid-deployment force will not be sufficient. In this context, European strategic autonomy and the elimination or reduction of the US role in Europe's security, seems unrealistic.

Bold moves for an uncertain future

Slovakia soldiers with the EU flag
Slovakian soldiers march with the EU flag during ceremonies for the fifth anniversary of Slovakia's EU integration, May 1,2009.JOE KLAMAR/AFP via Getty Images

"Macron's vision of European security is bold but differs from the German perspective and countless others," Moyer told Insider.

In Washington, Macron may have some allies in realizing his vision. The Biden administration is more amenable to a stronger EU than the Trump administration was, viewing a more capable Europe as a more valuable ally in great-power competition against Russia and China.

But if Macron's goal of a stronger and more capable European defense is to be achieved, the EU must find away to work its members' differing perspectives into a common vision.

Read the original article on Business Insider