By Kamil Szubart
On March 4, 2019, French president Emmanuel Macron published an opinion piece titled “For European Renewal” in the biggest newspapers across Europe. The article is, according to the French president, a roadmap for reviving an idea of the European integration that is threatened by the growth of nationalism and populist movements across Europe, the forthcoming “Brexit,” and the crisis of the European Union as a political project most of all.
A short passage of Macron’s article focuses on the future of European security and defense ahead of the UK’s exit from the EU. Brexit has been a hot topic, which European leaders have touched upon for two and a half years. In his piece, Macron explains that the EU, in the past two years, has reached substantial progress about European security and defense matters. He also encourages Europe to continue these successful efforts by setting “a clear course”, namely “a treaty on defense and security” that “should define our fundamental obligations in association with NATO and our European allies: increased defense spending, a truly operational defense clause, and the European Security Council with the United Kingdom on board to prepare our collective decisions”.
The Aachen Treaty as the First Footstep
Macron’s remarks are not something new. These ideas saw progress a couple of weeks ago (Jan. 22, 2019) when the French president and his German counterpart Chancellor Angela Merkel signed the Franco-German Treaty on Cooperation and Integration in a western German city of Aachen, commonly known as the Aachen Treaty. The declaration alludes to the Élysée Treaty signed by both countries 56 years ago (Jan. 22, 1963). The treaty’s preamble emphasizes the need to continue intensive bilateral cooperation between both countries as well as on forum of international organizations such as the EU and the United Nations. Much attention in the document has been devoted to the issue of security and defense, including Chapter II on “Peace, Security, and Development.” The Aachen Treaty confirms an absolute need for close cooperation between Berlin and Paris in the area of security and defense policies, internal affairs (e.g., combating terrorism and organized crime), and further integration of arms industries of both countries.
Germany and France declared mutual military assistance in case of aggression, resulting from Article 5 of the NATO Treaty and article 42.7 of the EU Treaty. Berlin and Paris also committed themselves to work toward the cohesion and the credibility of European defense and the development of defense programs, as well as the reconstruction of cooperation within the framework of the German-French Defense and Security Council and—if possible—the presentation of a joint position at the EU and the UN.
Ambitions Versus Harsh Reality
Both Macron’s article and the Aachen Treaty embody a couple of somewhat strategic or operational limitations. Let us look closer at some of them.
First of all, the Aachen Treaty likely will not lead to the creation of a new paradigm in the field of European security and defense based on cooperation between France and Germany. Thus, there is no serious threat to NATO and its strategic planning process (NDPP) nor to initiatives developed under the EU’s Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP).
Secondly, the document is only a political declaration that refers to those already being developed jointly through Berlin and Paris programs currently on various levels. It should be noted that both countries differ in the assessment of many of these projects. One of the best examples is Germany’s and France’s approaches to crisis management operations in the EU’s southern neighborhood, specifically North Africa. France permits itself to conduct combat operations against extremist groups in the Sahel region, while the Germans focus on advisory and training activities towards local security forces and providing humanitarian aid. For years, Germany and France have participated in two missions under the auspices of the UN (MINUSMA) and the EU’s training mission (EUTM Mali) in the Sahel region. The French Armed Forces, next to MINUSMA, also carry out a counterterrorism operation called Opération Barkhane.
Thirdly, The Aachen Treaty references the need to establish the “common strategic culture” of both countries despite Germany and France representing different strategic cultures regarding the use of military power and overseas deployments. Therefore, this demand should be interpreted only in terms of a political declaration.
For instance, the process of deploying the Armed Forces in France is much quicker than in Germany. This depends on the positions of the armed forces and political command and control over them in the constitutional systems of France and Germany. But differences between Paris and Berlin also occur at the operational level. France can deploy abroad in approximately 20,000 troops; Germany up to 5,000. Moreover, the German Bundeswehr faces a significant deficit in strategic airlift capabilities, depending on the assistance provided by the US or commercial transportation enterprises. On the other hand, France has at its disposal a well-developed chain of military bases worldwide, in South America, the Middle East, and Africa. France also remains a permanent member of the UN Security Council and a nuclear power.
Fourthly, the Aachen Treaty calls for establishing common standards and rules for arms exports. However, it will be likely problematic to develop and set up a common position on arms goods. Despite the cooperation on the EU arms industry market, German and French arms companies compete for each other on non-European markets, above all in the Middle East and in southeastern Asia.
Fifthly, Despite the appeal in the Aachen Treaty to the need to continue efforts to strengthen the strategic autonomy of the EU, its operationalization will not be possible in the short term. In the first place, there is a difference in its definition by both partners. For France, the EU strategic autonomy in the field of security and defense are mainly actions for strategic emancipation from the US, and its military presence in Europe, which is negatively received by some EU countries, especially NATO’s eastern flank. For the Germans, however, EU strategic autonomy is first and foremost an option for the EU in respect to its southern neighborhood. According to Germany, the EU’s southern neighborhood remains outside the primary interest of NATO and the US, while France treats that region as its sphere of influence.
Moreover, Berlin remains strongly skeptical about plans to give the EU the central role as a security provider for the EU countries in the face of threats posed by Russia. Despite disputes between Germany and the Trump Administration on burden-sharing, the US and NATO remain vital pillars of Germany’s security policy and guarantors of peace in the Euro-Atlantic area. In Germany’s view, security and defense policy activities taken by the EU will strengthen the European pillar of NATO.
Sixthly, Berlin and Paris realize what London’s security and defense capabilities mean for their security, especially counterterrorism. France has payed particular attention to its European Intervention Initiative (EII/EI2) launched in June 2018 and composed currently of 10 European countries (Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and the UK). Paris needs both Berlin’s and London’s buy-in for the development of EII/EI2. In the case of Germany, France expects political support; in the case of the British, their military capabilities.
The Aachen Treaty’s declarations on strengthening cooperation between Germany and France concerning counterterrorism and combating organized crime should be considered appropriate. Although there are EU mechanisms in this realm—including the Schengen Information System or Europol—there is still less effectiveness than there should be. For instance, EU member countries still selectively provide intelligence data for their everyday use. Cooperation in this field should not, however, have an exclusive character, limiting itself to German-French cooperation. It should be extended to other EU member countries.
INSCT Research and Practice Associate Kamil Szubart was a 2017 visiting fellow at INSCT, via the Kosciuszko Foundation. He works as an analyst for the Institute for Western Affairs in Poznan, Poland, where he is responsible for German foreign and security policy, transatlantic relations, Islamic threats in German-native-speaking countries and topics related to NATO, CSDP, OSCE, and the UN. Currently, he is working on a doctoral dissertation examining US-German relations in the field of international security since 9/11.