With the eurozone in permanent crisis, Brexit on the horizon, and far-right parties on the rise from Germany to the Czech Republic, the future of the European Union has never seemed so much in doubt. There’s no shortage of leaders aspiring to reboot the unification project that helped Europeans leave behind the terrors of two world wars. But whether it’s the old-style federalist president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, the solid German Chancellor Angela Merkel, or the maverick French President Emmanuel Macron leading the discussion about Europe’s future, there’s a recurring theme at the top of the priority list: defense.
In his ambitious Sorbonne University speech on the future of Europe in September, Macron expressed his grand vision: “At the beginning of the next decade Europe must have a joint intervention force, a common defense budget and a joint doctrine for action.” This is not merely a political wish list: Both the financing plans and institutional infrastructure for just such a consolidation of European military policy are being put in place at an astonishing speed. Billions of euros have been put on the table for R&D and weapons procurement; plans to militarize development aid, circumvent constitutional restraints, and bring European forces to the battleground are on paper and ready to go. EU members states will meet next Monday in Brussels to sign a defense pact—Permanent Structure Co-operation, or PESCO—calling for a massive increase in military investment and to pave the way for the deployment of European forces.
Most European citizens know nothing of these machinations; in the now-almost-routine panic produced by successive terrorist attacks and declarations of states of emergency by member states, critics’ voices are too marginal to be heard.