Leader comment: EU army a show of strength ahead of negotiations

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker says the EU needs its own military headquarters.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker says the EU needs its own military headquarters.
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Jean-Claude Juncker’s grand-standing state of the European Union speech left listeners in no doubt about his views on the Brexit vote.

The European Commission President was dismissive of the negotiations and pretty much urged the UK to get on with it, before launching into a raft of proposals for the future of the EU.

It is clear Mr Juncker wants Britain out, and for that to happen quickly.

He was brusque about the idea of Britain retaining access to the unified market, stating there was “no a la carte” access to the single market.

By taking a sideswipe at the UK by highlighting the dreadful assaults on European workers in recent weeks, he also started framing a narrative of ‘Us and Them’ - with Britain as the other.

His speech served up examples of how much Britain has lost influence already, when he proposed a European defence headquarters and a common army.

The UK has long opposed these plans and this idea would never have been brought forward if Britain was still a major player on the European stage.

Whether Mr Juncker is really laying out a position or simply making a bold statement about where Europe can go without the UK remains to be seen.

The creation of a European army could be a very risky move.

All the EU nations have their own armed forces and most nations are reluctant to rely on their neighbours for military assistance, regardless of how much trust lies between them.

There is also the question of whether this would overlap with Nato, as the majority of EU member states are also part of that organisation.

Any duplication with Nato’s activities could risk Europe appearing disorganised and poorly defended.

Lest we forget, the biggest player in Nato and therefore the defence of Europe is the United States, so any European force is likely to look rather small in comparison.

Also, anything that reduces Nato’s primacy is to be avoided.

The EU does run civilian and military operations, such as counter-piracy missions off the coast of Somalia and efforts to prevent migrant trafficking in the Mediterranean Sea.

However, the idea of a European force is much more complex than that, and could create more problems than it resolves.

Mr Juncker clearly has to heal a divided EU and to come out stronger in response to Britain’s momentous decision to leave.

In the wake of the terror attacks in Paris and Brussels, and the ongoing migration crisis, many European nations are looking to their borders to ensure security.

Whether this is the best way to achieve it remains to be seen.

Mr Juncker is taking a risk here with these proposals. However, the true purpose of his actions may be to signal a show of strength before Brexit negotiations begin.