Will Ireland say no to greater EU military co-operation?

As Trump rises, Putin flexes, and jihadist threats loom - we asked Ireland's politicans where they stand on the EU's military ambitions

Will Ireland say no to greater EU military co-operation?

Michael Probst AP/Press Association Images

On Monday the European Union approved a new plan aimed at improving military co-operation between EU states.

The EU will create a new planning organisation to oversee training missions and crisis-response military units will be used more frequently - but it fell short of approving a new centralised command and control headquarters.

Officials in the bloc's two largest states, Germany and France, are pushing for greater military co-operation and this issue won't go anywhere quickly as the world waits to see what Donald Trump's foreign policy will look like.

A worker prepares for final touches on rubber masks depicting the US President-elect / PA

His rise could have massive ramifications for NATO - Mr Trump has pledged to reduce US involvement in the alliance if serious reforms are not introduced.

These talks also comes as Russia's influence grows, the Middle East remains highly volatile, and the threat of terror attacks looms over the continent.

What is Ireland's position?

Fine Gael told Newstalk that its stance is "in line with the Government's position" and that the establishment of a EU military HQ would have "no implications for Ireland's policy of military neutrality."

It reports that this was "affirmed at Monday’s meeting of Defence Ministers in Brussels which the Minister with Responsibility for Defence, Paul Kehoe attended."

A statement from the party continues, "meeting Minster Kehoe restated Ireland’s policy of military neutrality, which precludes membership of military alliances and participation in common or mutual defence arrangements."

It adds that defense policy is a national issue and that "any change [to this policy] requires unanimity among Member States."

Military.ie

Opposition

But parties outside of the Government have warned that Ireland is at risk of getting sucked into a more sinister creeping militarisation of the EU.

Sinn Féin MEP Matt Carthy has called on Taoiseach Enda Kenny and the Irish Government to oppose the creation of an EU military headquarters:

"Germany and France have led the push for a new EU defence plan, including the establishment of a planning centre for military operations. This is very clearly another step towards the creation of an EU army [...] EU federalists have been seeking to use Brexit to move towards establishment of an EU army," the Midlands, North, West representative said.

Belgian Army Liutenant Gill Schoonheydt talks to migrants on the deck of a Belgian Navy vessel / PA

He called on Enda Kenny to "state clearly that Ireland opposes the creation of an EU military headquarters for an EU army and will veto any attempt to create such an army, regardless of what it is called."

Meanwhile, a Fianna Fail spokesperson told Newstalk that it "believes it is important to deal with the actual facts of the situation" as it reiterated its "steadfast support of Ireland's policy of military neutrality."

The party drew attention to the fact that as it stands under the Nice Treaty, Ireland is not party to any mutual defence commitment - Ireland is not part of any plans to develop a European army - and that the Irish Government decides on a case-by-case basis when the country's Defence Forces take part in humanitarian or crisis management tasks undertaken by the EU.

Fianna Fail criticised Mr Carthy's comments, saying "Sinn Fein should refrain from scare mongering and trying to build up an anti-EU sentiment."

The Department of Foreign Affairs states that, "During the course of the evolution of the EU’s common security and defence policy, our EU partners have always fully respected Ireland’s sovereignty, independence and neutrality."

It adds that Irish troops are not employed to conflict zones on EU missions without the "triple lock" of approval from the UN, the Government, and the Dáil.

Push back

Labour Defence spokesperson Brendan Ryan opposes the establishment of a new HQ for military operations:

"Labour is opposed to the creation of an EU army, and would not support the establishment of an EU military headquarters which would be further step along the road to such a force."

"Ireland has a proud history as a neutral country and should continue to play our part in responding to humanitarian crises and taking part in UN approved peacekeeping missions," he continued.

Refugees and migrants, mostly from Afghanistan, wait in a queue to receive food distributed by the Greek army /PA

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett told Newstalk.com that he is, "100% against any [Irish] involvement in the EU military-industrial complex."

He added that he believes that Irish neutrality is going through a process of "systematic-erosion" and that the EU's peace enforcement is "war by another name."

Mr Boyd Barrett believes that the EU will respond to an ramping-up of militarism in the US under Donald Trump by expanding its own military capabilities rather than speaking out against the US.

The Green Party is "committed to voting against any extension of EU battle groups and planning centres for military operations that are not bound to peacekeeping activities - and added that it is committed to protecting Irish neutrality."

"The Green Party also condemn the increased militarisation of the EU border as an approach to the refugee crisis. The creation of an EU military headquarters is part and parcel of the EU's militarised response to the refugee crisis," a statement from the party issued to Newstalk continued.

Ever-closer union

An EU army cannot be formed without the support of all member states - this is stated in Article 42 of the Lisbon Treaty.

European foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini / PA

However - there are provisions for member states to collaborate of defence without the support of other nations - meaning that France and Germany could move forward with allies to combine military resources - while those who object to the move do not take part.

Politicians from Italy and Hungary have indicated their support for greater military co-operation.

For some politicians, the overall goal is to have a European military force which is strong enough to take action without requiring the support of the US.

 

Defence Forces soldiers from the 53rd Infantry Group undergoing mission readiness training / PA

Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German foreign minister recently told The Times (London) that, "The way to a European army is far away. But the way ahead is something that is important. Our populations are expecting closer cooperation in the field of security, including defence."

European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker said in his state of the Union address in September that, "We must have a European headquarters and so we should work towards a common military force."

In 2015 he also said that the EU needs a common army if it is to be taken seriously by Russia as an international force.