Malta Today, By James Debono, 20 June 2017
55% of the Maltese say they favour the creation of an EU army, according to a survey held by the European Commission last April.
Maltese support for this development mirrors that in all EU 28 member states, where 55% also support the creation of an EU army. But support for the creation of an EU army in Malta has declined by six points since autumn 2015.
37% of the Maltese said they are completely opposed to the idea.
Support for the creation of an EU army is highest in the Netherlands and Belgium (74%) and lowest in Finland (42%) and the United Kingdom (39%), the latter having only recently voted to leave the EU.
In 23 Member States, a majority of respondents favour the EU army, with the exceptions of the United Kingdom, Sweden, and Finland – the latter traditionally a wary neighbour of Russia – Austria and Ireland.
Compared with the autumn 2015 survey, the proportion of respondents who are in favour of the creation of an EU army has increased in 20 countries, especially in Cyprus (63%, +19 percentage points). In six countries the proportion has declined slightly (Estonia, Croatia, Malta, Latvia, Romania, Finland), while it has remained stable in Poland and Italy.
The survey also shows 71% of Maltese being in favour of a common defence and security policy among all EU member states compared to an EU average of 75%. Support is highest in Luxembourg (87%) and lowest in Sweden (59%).
Debate in Malta on the creation of a European army has barely touched the political agenda. But in March, PN leader Simon Busuttil urged EU member states to seriously consider merging their armed forces into one single common army.
Busuttil, a former MEP, was addressing a conference at the University of Malta. He warned that the EU is lacking significantly when it comes to foreign policy and questioned whether it still made sense for the 28 member states to each have their own separate army.
“It’s not as though the 28 armies are waiting for the moment to fight each other. It is time we start asking ourselves these provocative questions,” he said.
A divergent view on further integration of EU security policy was expressed in the European parliament by former Prime Minister Alfred Sant in November 2016.
“I disagree that at this time especially, the EU should reinforce a military dimension to its character,” Sant said. “This move might appear suitable to counter the supposedly disintegrating effects of Brexit. It could have the opposite effect. There is no popular constituency for a European Union that morphs into a military coalition, funded from EU budgetary resources.”
Sant voted against resolutions on the European Defence Union report, which backs the idea of progressing in the direction of a European Defence Union. Labour MEPs Marlene Mizzi and Miriam Dalli abstained on the report, while Nationalist MEPs David Casa, Therese Comodini Cachia and Roberta Metsola voted in favour.
Sending a message to Russia
In March, EU foreign and defence ministers agreed to create a joint command centre for the bloc’s military missions, a step towards more EU cooperation on security and defence.
The embryonic military headquarters has long been opposed by Britain, which is the bloc’s leading military power, but the idea was revived by Germany and France after the British voted to leave the EU.
The organisation would command the bloc’s “non-executive military missions”, within the existing EU military staff of the European External Action Service (EEAS). These include the three military training missions the bloc now runs in Mali, Somalia and Central African Republic.
EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini has refused to describe this as a precursor to setting up a European army. “I know this is the label going around – it is a more effective way of handling our military work. This is about protecting our citizens. The EU has unique tools to help Europeans to take more responsibility for their own security, and to do more effectively. This is what we are doing with our work in security and defence.”
But EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has said the EU needs its own army to face up to Russia and other threats, arguing that NATO was not enough because not all members of the transatlantic defence alliance are in the EU.
“A joint EU army would show the world that there would never again be a war between EU countries,” Juncker told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper. “Such an army would also help us to form common foreign and security policies and allow Europe to take on responsibility in the world.”
Juncker said a common EU army could serve as a deterrent and would have been useful during the Ukraine crisis. “A common European army would convey a clear message to Russia that we are serious about defending our European values.”