Published on May 11th, 2016 | by frances3
Olivier’s Army – Is the EU army on its way?
By Jonathan Green, Prospect Head of Research
One of the first duties of any state is to defend its own citizens from attack, so the debate over defence in the EU referendum campaign is quite informative. Liam Fox, one of the key figures in the ‘Leave’ campaign. has claimed:
His fear is that, rather than working through our key military alliance NATO, supra-national decision-making will increasingly be led by the EU commission based in Brussels. This is clearly not an argument for a narrow ‘little Englander’ approach to foreign policy. Fox makes it clear that NATO has kept the peace since the Second World War and that it will be the best way of controlling external threats from countries such as Russia.
There is no doubt that some within the EU would prefer to see greater co-ordination of European defence policy. Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, has called for greater military integration within the EU. But defence remains an area that requires the consent of national governments. The UK remains opposed to the creation of a single military force, but this does not mean that there is not cross border collaboration.
The UK and France agreed a nuclear testing deal in 2010; this also included a commitment to an ‘integrated carrier group’ and the creation of a joint expeditionary force. There may have been some logic to this treaty. The two countries remain the strongest military forces within the EU, but both have faced fiscal pressures following the economic meltdown in 2008, so the pooling of defence resources could help both countries retain their military clout. But movement towards greater integration has been slow. An initially successful joint military campaign deployment in Libya seemed to confirm the alliance, but defence cuts in France following the election of President Hollande have thrown the Treaty into doubt. It is also unclear how the military alliance would work in practice. Sharing an aircraft carrier looks good in practice but who owns the repair bill?
Integration between European contractors is much more established. The UK has the most open defence market in the world, so it is no wonder that defence companies value access to the European market. The leading UK defence manufacturers organisation ADS is strongly in favour of remaining within the EU. The single market enables 82% of ADS members to export within the EU. UK companies also benefit from £100 million per year of EU funds for research and development and a further £2.5 billion for space R&D funding by 2021.
There have been many long-standing collaborations between UK and European defence contractors. A number of European defence companies, including Finmeccanica and Thales, operate UK subsidiary companies. Trans European defence manufacturers remain significant, particularly the Airbus Group and MBDA, but there are few signs of consolidation of the European defence industry. The spectacular failure of the EADS and BAE Systems merger talks in 2012 seemed to quell any further moves towards a wider European integration.
Whichever way the referendum vote goes in June, the national market remains crucial for the defence sector. It is therefore ironic that Liam Fox has warned about the risks of greater European integration. It was while serving as the Secretary of State for Defence that the government dropped the defence industrial policy, which safeguarded UK sovereign capability in key defence domains, in favour of greater use of ‘off the shelf’. An early casualty of this policy shift was BAE Systems. After losing out on a MoD contract for a new generation of land vehicle, the company closed its production facilities. Despite a promise from the winning contractor, General Dynamics, that 10,500 jobs would be secured in the UK, the first 100 vehicles are being built in Spain.
A vote to leave may end any remote prospect of the British army being merged into a Brussels based European army, but it will not safeguard UK jobs. That threat is much closer to home.