President Donald Trump has thrown down the gauntlet by demanding that Europe spend more on defense. And the Europeans have responded—but in the worst way possible.
In a speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently echoed French President Emmanuel Macron’s call for the creation of a European army. She also called for a European security council that would be able to prepare important decisions more swiftly. “We should work on the vision of creating a genuine European army one day,” she said. Merkel stressed that this would not be an anti-NATO army, but that it would complement the existing efforts of the alliance.
Earlier that week, Macron had said that an EU army was needed to “protect ourselves with respect to China, Russia, and even the United States.” President Trump reacted to the statement by tweeting:
Emmanuel Macron suggests building its own army to protect Europe against the U.S., China and Russia. But it was Germany in World Wars One & Two – How did that work out for France? They were starting to learn German in Paris before the U.S. came along. Pay for NATO or not!
Loud applause reigned in the European Parliament after Merkel announced her support for an EU army, as those wanting to unite the continent in one centralized state saw their dream as closer than ever before. The European Parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator and EU uber-federalist Guy Verhofstadt applauded the declarations by Macron and Merkel by saying that “we have fought for this for many years.”

After all, if you want a centralized state that actually holds power over its regions, you need authority over three things: central banking, fiscal revenue, and the military. Under the European Central Bank, the EU has turned the Euro into a widespread common currency. On fiscal revenue, the European Parliament just backed a resolution that calls for direct revenues for the EU: one of the suggested measures is a digital tax on American companies such as Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple (referred to as “GAFA” in Europe). Revenues of this type would flow directly into the EU budget, thereby circumventing the necessity of funding by the individual member states.
If the nations of Europe also now give up their military sovereignty, then there will be little to stop the European Union from becoming that centralized state that Eurosceptics have been warning about for decades. For years now, even mentioning the idea of a European army was enough to get you dismissed as a conspiracy theorist. Take The Guardian, which in May 2016 (only one month before the Brexit referendum) ran the headline: “Is there a secret plan to create an EU army?” Their answer: “Claims from the leave side about moves to unify Europe’s armed forces are nothing more than fantasy.”
The Guardian pronounced that such concerns were a mere Eurosceptic scare tactic in the wake of the Brexit referendum. Given what we know only two years later, those Brexiteers don’t look so uninformed after all.
Former British ambassador to the U.S. Christopher Meyer tweeted in 2016: “Pigs will fly before the EU creates an army. European states can barely scrape together the cash to fund their contribution to NATO.” “Barely” was an understatement. The Grand-Duchy of Luxembourg, liberated by the United States in World War II, only contributes 0.5 percent of its GDP to its military. Yet in a twist on what Meyer said, countries that aren’t staying true to their NATO commitments are now suggesting yet another international agreement. Pigs have flown after all.
This year, the European Union launched its Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) as a part of the EU’s security and defense policy (CSDP). PESCO is intended to coordinate defense efforts within the EU to make military cooperation more effective. Twenty-five of the 28 EU member countries signed on to PESCO (with the United Kingdom leaving, and Denmark and the island of Malta not onboard). Neutral states such as Ireland and Austria only did so because the agreement guarantees that military action will only be initiated in self-defense.
PESCO’s newly introduced paragraph in the Treaty on the European Union says:
Those Member States whose military capabilities fulfill higher criteria and which have made more binding commitments to one another in this area with a view to the most demanding missions shall establish permanent structured cooperation within the Union framework.
This is classic EU jargon. It could very well mean that the intention is to enhance cooperation between nations. But it could also mean that EU member states should structurally integrate their military forces with the intention of being governed under a single framework.
So with a defense structure already in place, what is the point of a European army? Most EU member states participate in NATO, after all. The only thing an EU army would add would be the centralized task force described by Merkel, one that would decide by itself to initiate military action, taking that power out of the hands of national parliaments. And no, this wouldn’t mean that all armed forces would be ordered by a Brussels command. But it would create a centralized authority that’s likely to accumulate more and more money from direct revenue sources. Eventually, countries such as Luxembourg might give up their military forces entirely and transfer powers completely to the European Union. Such smaller nations wouldn’t have much of a say anyway, since the principle of unanimity is already under fire in the EU. Before you could say “centralized power in Europe is always dangerous,” you’d find powerless states subjugated by a centralized force that controlled the money supply, taxes, and the military.
And yes, some papers might accuse me of promulgating conspiracy theories. But given what we heard two years ago in those same papers, I’ll take that chance.
Bill Wirtz comments on European politics and policy in English, French, and German. His work has appeared in NewsweekThe Washington Examiner, CityAM, Le MondeLe Figaro, and Die Welt.