Berlin backs Jean-Claude Juncker call for European army

Commission president insists controversial call not related to Trump’s election victory

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker told a Berlin audience that the United States “won’t look after Europe’s security for ever”. Photograph:  Tobias Schwarz/AFP/Getty Images

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker told a Berlin audience that the United States “won’t look after Europe’s security for ever”. Photograph: Tobias Schwarz/AFP/Getty Images

 

Germany has backed a renewed call by European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker for the European Union to push ahead with developing an EU army.

After campaign criticism by US president-elect Donald Trump that Europe is not pulling its weight in Nato, Mr Juncker told a Berlin audience that the United States “won’t look after Europe’s security for ever”.

“We have to do this ourselves, which is why we need a new approach to building a European security union with the end goal of establishing a European army,” said Mr Juncker.

Mr Juncker insisted his call for a European army, a controversial idea for neutral Ireland and other non-Nato EU members, was not related to Mr Trump’s election victory and would not result in a “United States of Europe”.

His call received swift backing from senior German figures on Thursday, ahead of an EU defence minister summit in mid-December.

In recent months Germany’s defence minister Ursula von der Leyen has stepped up calls for greater EU and EU-Nato military co-operation.

Security policy

In a newspaper article on Thursday, she called on Europe to find a “common political will for greater relevance in security policy”.

The minister played down fears that Mr Trump would make good on a threat to end the US role as “policeman of the world” and called on Germany to “build bridges” to Mr Trump.

Noting that all of Mr Trump’s modern predecessors had criticised Europe for falling short on military spending commitments, she added: “This demand remains unchanged after the election.”

Even when Germany boosts spending to €39.2 billion annually by 2020, it will still be barely more than half the two per cent of gross domestic product demanded by Nato.

Looming EU departure

Until now steps towards a European defence and security union have been blocked by some member states, in particular the United Kingdom. Its looming EU departure, however, has seen renewed efforts by Berlin and Paris to revive the issue.

With an eye on president-elect Mr Trump, Mr Juncker underlined the continued importance of transatlantic relations and urged leaders not to “reset relations out of anger”.

The commission president called for clarity on his controversial campaign promises, calling into question existing US policy on climate, defence and trade.

Mr Juncker said he was not hopeful of the TTIP transatlantic trade deal, currently being negotiated between the EU and US, being completed any time soon. “I do not view that as something that would happen in the next two years,” he said.