Questions Await Germany Over European Army

European Army

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June 25, 2015 15:11 EDT

Germany has crucial questions to answer when it comes to a European army.

The Rühe Commission’s report on the future of parliamentary participation in Germany is well-informed in its analysis of the status quo. However, its recommendations mainly focus on simplifying the approval process for tasks such as training and support missions. They leave aside the fundamental question that led to the establishment of the Rühe Commission.

Due to the progressive integration of armed forces in Europe, the German Bundestag is confronted with a gap between the growing demand of partners—especially NATO—for alliance solidarity and the preservation of national sovereignty.

Europe’s armed forces are undergoing a fundamental transformation. Since the 1990s, European countries have not been able to decide alone about participating in larger military campaigns. Instead, they are dependent on the political approval and military support of their European Union and NATO partners.

As parliaments have a say in military deployments of 17 European states, national parliaments are gaining importance not only regarding their own defense policies, but also with the policies of partner countries. This mutual dependency will increase because single states lack the financial means for large national armies. Hence, ideas such as a defense union—which was suggested by former EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) Javier Solana—or the Framework Nations Concept focus on the collective provision of military capabilities, without defining a concrete mission objective.

The Germans are not alone in their support for strengthened defense cooperation and even a European army. The majority of parliamentary factions also back them.

At the same time, the German parliament insists on maintaining full autonomy in its decisions regarding the deployment of Germany’s armed forces. However, if one wants to set up joint defense units, states have to give up sovereignty. They would have to agree on mutual dependency long before deploying any troops. Although the government and parliament could refuse the deployment of their capabilities, they would not be able to veto the overall mission.

In light of the contradictory efforts between defense integration and the preservation of autonomy, it was the Rühe Commission itself that asked for a debate on the future design of parliamentary power. Unfortunately, the commission did not present any concrete arguments on the topic. Instead, its recommendations seek to anticipate a compromise in parliament.

Nevertheless, the German Bundestag will need to engage in this debate. Three aspects will be key in this regard.

1) International Cooperation Requires International Regulation

International cooperation requires international regulation not only in Germany, but in all partner countries. Conversely, national rules have consequences for all partners. For that reason, the German Bundestag must take a look at the parliaments of other countries and consider alternative models of parliamentary participation.

This way, it could gain more clarity on a reasonable model of parliamentary say. It would also underline that the responsibility for alliance solidarity does not only lie with Germany and the Bundestag, because even if Berlin approves a military campaign, other governments can still reject it. This has occurred in the past when France and the Netherlands temporarily withdrew from NATO missions.

2) Consider the Consequences of Parliamentary Procurement Decisions

The conditions for successful defense cooperation are not only created during a mission, but long before: when equipment is purchased. In this context, parliaments routinely block cooperation, because when purchasing arms they tend not to decide along the lines of military utility or cooperation potential. Rather, parliaments consider industrial bases and jobs.

This is why Europeans bought 23 different versions of the same helicopter type and did not use the opportunity for cooperation and savings. To set the conditions for successful defense cooperation, the German parliament should deal with the consequences of procurement decisions.

3) Change Political Practice, Not Law

Legislative amendments, as proposed by the Rühe Commission, can contribute to more legal certainty, but they do not change the fact that decisions on military deployments remain a political risk for government and parliament. Precisely because of that, it is a decisive signal to one’s army, partners and third parties for the reasons deployments are approved.

So far, the German parliament only discusses small details such as the type of weapon to be used in a military mission. It should instead ponder over the strategic goals and risks of a mission. The German military would not turn into a berserker army this way.

The German parliament must decide on which consequences it draws from the suggestions of the Rühe Commission and the unfolding reality of a European army. It has to clarify how national sovereignty can be passed to the benefit of alliances such as the European Union, NATO and the United Nations. So far, no harm has been done by giving up national sovereignty, not in Afghanistan, Kosovo or Mali. If anything, a strengthened alliance sovereignty allows for joint decisions to be followed by joint actions.

*[A German version of this article was published by Fair Observer’s content partner, Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP), and was translated to English by Manuel Langendorf.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit: Drop of Light /

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