While Europe faces major threats ranging from international terrorism to mass migration and domestic political extremist groups, uniquely in European history, the continent is today safer from the threat of sate-on-state military aggression than at any time in modern European history.
And yet while Europe ought to focus on multilateral security initiatives in respect of tackling security threats from non-state actors, French President Emmanuel Macron has stated that the world’s three superpowers should be defended against by a pan-European army. In a radio interview with Europe 1, the French President stated,
“We have to protect ourselves with respect to China, Russia and even the United States of America”.
While long serving French President and anti-fascist leader Charles de Gaulle advocated for an independent post-1945 European security and economic system that was implicitly different from that of the United States, to hear a French President in the 21st century say that a European army needs to “protect” Europeans from the United States is not only bizarre but ludicrous. As for China, while major EU officials continue to drag their feet on a meaningful Chinese trade deal, China is nevertheless a major trading partner of the European Union that no serious individual has ever associated with attempts to wage war in Europe. While the Cold War style Russophobia that has characterised domestic American politics over the last several years has predictably stimulated Cold War style phobias in some parts of Europe, the idea that Russia would militarily invade any EU member state remains as far fetched as a Chinese or American war upon Europe.
While a major European leader calling for closer military cooperation among EU members is certainly nothing novel, the way in which Macron phrased his call denotes either a very poorly conceived statement or a total detachment from reality. If anything, when it comes to combating non-state security threats, Europe could frankly draw on the experience of all three nuclear superpowers while Europe’s neighbour Turkey could also assist in this respect.
But it terms of what Europe requires for long term sustainable development, trade rather than military build-ups holds the key. In the third quarter of 2018, the European Union’s total economic growth estimate was a mere 1.9% above the third quarter of 2017 while compared with the second quarter of 2018, the EU economy grew by 0.3%. By contrast, China’s economy grew 6.5% in the third quarter of 2018 when compared with the same time last year while growth between quarter 2 and quarter 3 of this year saw the Chinese economy growing at a rate of 1.6% in spite of the Trump trade war.
Likewise, the United States also showed a higher growth rate in the third quarter of 2018 than the EU with America experiencing a growth rate of 3.5% in quarter 3 of 2018 when compared with the previous year. At the same time, Turkey’s economy surged to a 5.2% growth rate in the second quarter of 2018 compared with last year while staunchly pro-growth policies continue to be prioritised by the Turkish government.
Taken in totality, it is clear that when compared with both the US and China, the European Union economy is facing a period where marginal growth rates are lagging behind other major economic powers. Because of this, any time spent on frivolous projects like a highly costly pan-EU army is little more than a distraction from more pressing issues of economic diversification.
The European Union could at minimum set aside its economically weaker regions as special free trading zones where goods from China and other major Asian powers could freely flow into Europe, thus paving the way for a wider China-EU free trading agreement and an equally crucial ASEAN-EU free trading agreement.
The EU economy remains vital to the wider world but without opening up to trade with the rapidly growing economies of Asia or else also reaching an understanding with the protectionist United States whose market is a major destination for European exports, the EU will find that its modest growth numbers may in fact diminish even further.
At a time when China is opening up to historic new levels of trade and is currently holding a substantial International Import Expo in Shanghai, if the EU remains committed to internal market freedoms without pursuing freer trade with the wider world, stagnation could well become the order of the day sooner rather than later.
With most of the EU already being part of the NATO alliance, the idea of spending billions of Euros to duplicate a parallel force with largely the same security outlook not only makes zero economic sense but it also makes no practical sense.
The days of Napoleon have long since passed and the French President would be wise to understand that the demands of Europe’s citizens are focused on economic growth, access to new import and export markets as well as collective security mechanisms to fight non-state terror threats that ought to see the EU work with rather than against China, the US and Russia.
It is difficult to imagine what might have been in President Macron’s head when he made his announcement to Europe 1 radio, but whatever he was thinking, he ought to think twice and put trade above militarism for the benefit of all Europeans.