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Juncker calls for collective EU army

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has advocated a combined EU military force, suggesting two major benefits: to improve the bloc's standing on the world stage, and to send a message to Moscow.

Jean-Claude Juncker told the "Welt am Sonntag" Sunday paper that forming an EU army would be one of the best ways for the bloc to defend its values, as well as its borders.

"An army like this would help us to better coordinate our foreign and defense policies, and to collectively take on Europe's responsibilities in the world," Juncker told the weekly. "Europe's image has suffered dramatically and also in terms of foreign policy, we don't seem to be taken entirely seriously."

EU Kommissionspräsident Jean-Claude Juncker

Juncker implied that a combined EU force might have altered developments in Ukraine

The European Commission president, formerly Luxembourg's prime minister, said that, with such a force, the EU could react in a credible manner when faced with a threat to freedom in a member state or neighboring country.

"You would not create a European army to use it immediately," Juncker said. "But a common army among the Europeans would convey to Russia that we are serious about defending the values of the European Union."

Juncker added, however, that any such force should not be envisaged as a challenge to NATO's existing defense role.

Old idea, old objections, but new proponents

The proposition of a possible EU defense force was first formally laid down in the EU's Lisbon Treaty, which came into force in December 2009. Chancellor Angela Merkel and former French President Nicolas Sarkozy are among those to have advocated such a force, at least in theory at some point in the future. Joint missions abroad, only involving willing participants and often with a peacekeeping remit, have been commonplace for several years.

However, defense policy and military matters remain largely the domain of individual member states within the EU. The UK, generally a staunch proponent of keeping political power away from Brussels or Strasbourg, and also one of the continent's major military powers, might be a prime candidate to resist such a strategic integration of military and defensive assets.

In Germany, though, as the country seeks a greater international role than the sort of large-scale-Switzerland model favored in the post-war era, such an appeal might be more warmly received.

Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said last month, for instance, that a form of EU army should be a long-term goal for the block. Von der Leyen said that she was convinced about the goal of a combined military force, just as she was convinced that "perhaps not my children, but then my grandchildren will experience a United States of Europe."

Bundesverteidigungsministerin Ursula von der Leyen Weißbuch 2016

Defense Minister von der Leyen is already working on extensive reform within Germany's military

Welt am Sonntag also quoted Norbert Röttgen, the chair of the Bundestag's foreign policy committee, describing an EU force as "a vision whose time has come." Röttgen pointed in particular to potential synergies and savings in military spending.

"The European countries spend enormous sums on the military, many times more in total when compared to Russia. Yet our military capabilities remain unsatisfactory from a security standpoint. And they will for as long as we're talking about national mini-armies, which are often doing and purchasing the same things in their minor formats," Röttgen told Welt.

On Monday, according to the report, the former EU foreign policy chief and former NATO secretary-general, Javier Solana, will submit a report entitled "More Union in European Defense," calling for a new EU security strategy that would include the capability to intervene outside the bloc's borders.

msh/rc (AFP, dpa, Reuters)