With the eurozone in permanent crisis, Brexit on the horizon, and far-right parties on the rise from Germany to the Czech Republic, the future of the European Union has never seemed so much in doubt. There’s no shortage of leaders aspiring to reboot the unification project that helped Europeans leave behind the terrors of two world wars. But whether it’s the old-style federalist president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, the solid German Chancellor Angela Merkel, or the maverick French President Emmanuel Macron leading the discussion about Europe’s future, there’s a recurring theme at the top of the priority list: defense.
In his ambitious Sorbonne University speech on the future of Europe in September, Macron expressed his grand vision: “At the beginning of the next decade Europe must have a joint intervention force, a common defense budget and a joint doctrine for action.” This is not merely a political wish list: Both the financing plans and institutional infrastructure for just such a consolidation of European military policy are being put in place at an astonishing speed. Billions of euros have been put on the table for R&D and weapons procurement; plans to militarize development aid, circumvent constitutional restraints, and bring European forces to the battleground are on paper and ready to go. EU members states will meet next Monday in Brussels to sign a defense pact—Permanent Structure Co-operation, or PESCO—calling for a massive increase in military investment and to pave the way for the deployment of European forces.
Most European citizens know nothing of these machinations; in the now-almost-routine panic produced by successive terrorist attacks and declarations of states of emergency by member states, critics’ voices are too marginal to be heard. The emerging alliance between politicians and the EU’s military industries recalls President Eisenhower’s warning almost 60 years ago: “We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist.”
In his emotional State of the Union address in September 2016, EU Commissioner Juncker spoke about the existential threats facing the European “way of life.” In a hostile world, he said, Europe would have to adapt; soft power is no longer enough to confront modern threats: “For European defence to be strong, the European defence industry needs to innovate. That is why we will propose before the end of the year a European Defence Fund, to turbo boost research and innovation.”
The first thing to be turbo-boosted by Juncker’s remarks was EU Commissioner for Industry Elzbieta Bienkowska, who instantly tweeted, “Good news for defence industry: new European Defence Fund before the end of the year!” A year and a half earlier, in March 2015, Bienkowska had initiated a High Level Group of Personalities to advise the European Commission on how to support and promote military and security research, comprising big names from the industry’s and the commission’s corridors of power. The CEOs of major European military contractors, among them Indra, Saab, Airbus Group, BAE Systems, and Finmeccanica (later renamed Leonardo), were invited to join, alongside think-tank denizens and key political players like the Euro-Atlanticist former Swedish prime minister Carl Bildt and German Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Michael Gahler.