Opposing the militarisation of the EU

Daniel Lücking

European ambitions towards closer cooperation within the Common Security and Defence Policy have been given a boost in the wake of the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine, while the reaction to the war was described in Germany as a ‘turning point’, the effects of which are still hard to predict. The announcement by the German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (Social Democratic Party of Germany, SPD) of a special fund of 100 billion euros for the Bundeswehr has already brought with it a massive shift in the Foreign and Security Policy of the EU. The general trend of increasing expenditure on defence can be observed throughout Europe. Anti-war activists across the continent are noting with concern the fact that Germany, which, together with France, has been playing a leading role in the development and creation of European defence structures for years, is now pumping 25 billion euros more into the defence budget every year. For comparison, the total budget of all the EU member states for 2019 was 186 billion euros.

Instead of ‘turning point’, the term ‘180-degree turn’ expresses more clearly what has happened in Germany’s defence, economic and foreign policy. If, at the end of 2021, the signs in the government’s coalition agreement were still pointing towards the revival of international disarmament and arms control, then the year after that, the focus rather shifted towards controlled armament. To help Ukraine defend itself, deliveries of military equipment were made in which eastern EU countries handed over their stockpiles of weapons systems from the Cold War era with a view to unifying NATO equipment and the purchase of Western weapons systems.  The commitment, which has previously been avoided, to NATO’s target that members should invest two per cent of gross domestic product in defence, combined with the German declaration of February 2022, is a step backwards on the path to a more peaceful world.

Meanwhile, in Germany, more than 50,000 people have signed the appeal ‘Save democracy and the welfare state – Say no to rearmament in the Basic Law!’ (‘Demokratie und Sozialstaat bewahren – Keine Hochrüstung ins Grundgesetz!’)[1], which was launched by numerous social organisations and the ‘DIE LINKE’ party. Given the scale of the impact of the war in Ukraine, that is still a relatively small number. Society as a whole and day-to-day life have long been touched by the effects of the ongoing war. Alone in Germany, the government must mitigate the consequences associated with war-related increases in energy, mobility and food prices with three relief packages now in place.

Initial demonstrations and the hope of a ‘hot autumn’ have begun and will have to take effect over the coming months. The fact that a solution cannot be solely found in the relief packages of the German Government is apparent from supermarket receipts, heating bills and not least the aggravation of social issues: the situation in which those in financial need find themselves in has once again worsened.

So far, however, the answer to the war has been mostly sought in armament. There have not yet been any diplomatic missions coming from the EU that could persuade Ukraine and Russia to negotiate. The internal strength vowed by the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, which was again called forth when it came to responding to Putin’s war of aggression on Ukraine, continues to include only reactive economic measures, but not a proactive pursuit of peace within the framework of diplomatic negotiations.

Clearly, another incentive is economic prosperity as a welcome side effect of the security threat. It sounds almost cynical, but the destruction of infrastructure in war and crisis areas offers massive investment potential within the scope of reconstruction. The more urgently the infrastructure is required, the lower the hurdles to procurement. For example, to push ahead with the electrification of Afghanistan means continuing investment opportunities for international corporations.

Politics in the shadows

Large parts of European defence policy and military action take place without much publicity. PESCO, permanent structured cooperation between EU Member States, has so far not caused anywhere near as much attention as the NATO defence alliance.  What began as a memorandum of understanding for joint action at the end of 2017 now has major overlaps with NATO itself. Under PESCO, Member States commit to increase their national defence spending, jointly develop new weapons or military technology, and build up joint capacity to conduct military operations. In addition to the 25 European states that have joined PESCO, more and more countries are becoming involved, such as the USA, Canada and Norway, and others are interested in participating, such as Turkey.

The fact that PESCO and any specific measures within the context of a European defence policy were not directly mentioned in the State of the Union speech given by the President of the Commission Ursula von der Leyen on 14 September 2022 belies the fact that expansion is constantly taking place. Missions in the Balkans and Mali are the most obvious actions.

The development of European infrastructure is affected more indirectly as, in the construction of roads and bridges, military utilisation is still factored in as a construction requirement. Militarism too often has economic benefits without directly affecting arms companies.

The arms companies are currently also making direct profits through ‘recycling’. Decommissioned military equipment is taken from the alleged ‘scrap heap’ and processed and resold dozens of times. A trend whose limits, however, could be predictably limited with scarcer raw materials and rising oil prices. The demands on military equipment are constantly increasing. Tanks are supposed to use less fuel and be used in the battle of connected weapons using computer technology, which was neither available nor intended in military technology in the 1970s and 1980s.

Future conflicts, old problems and secure sources of income

Warring states already face the challenges of an increasingly technology-based world. By using computer chips in weapons systems, armies have made themselves dependent on a new aspect of supplies and are finding supply chains, which are continuing to falter worldwide due to the coronavirus pandemic, to be a strategic obstacle.

However, it is not only within the context of unresolved conflict but also in out-of-area operations where new needs are arising due to climate change and the increase in extreme weather conditions. The necessary investments often have dual-use effects, so that arms appear economically relevant. Through ‘Military Green’[2], the European Defence Agency is not only trying to promote lower-consumption army vehicles but also to operate field camps more efficiently, where self-sufficient supply is becoming increasingly difficult. Heat, heavy rain and flooding are also pushing up costs for the military. On the subject itself, an image boost seems to be one of the objectives.

The fact that the German government responds to acute crises almost in the blink of an eye with the creation of a special fund when it concerns the military, while other things such as flood protection, transport transition, energy crises or poverty reduction lag behind, demonstrates on the one hand the low level of importance placed on social, peace and preventative measures and on the other hand the influence of economic lobbying.

Also closely linked to military armament is the role of technological leadership in competition with China, which, in the long term, is concerned with resources, market power and strategic interests in Southeast Asia. Given these political ambitions, the separation of military and economic action is becoming increasingly difficult[3]. Looking at the US, the Ukraine war and the armament that comes with the 100-billion-euro special fund (purchase of F35 nuclear-capable fighter jets) are already emerging to be a significant economic recovery plan for the US arms industry. For the near future, left-wing peace policy will therefore be even more at odds with economic interests.

The Open Security Data EU[4] project displays to whom EU funds are granted. In this database, users can see which companies, organisations or projects receive EU funds in the area of security policy.

A military budget without an army: the EU’s Sleight of Hand

Since the European Union does not currently have its own army and organises itself through cooperation, the control of military activities is the responsibility of the Member States. Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) can be deprived of essential means of control by making reference to national competences and confidentiality interests. This particularly concerns the European Defence Fund[5], which comprises around EUR 8 billion for military research and development between 2021 and 2027. Implementation remains unquestionable for MEPs, especially when funding goes to national projects, as national security interests can always be used as an explanation. This should be tackled consistently with an extension of the European Parliament’s supervisory powers. The use of European funds must not be hidden and concealed by referring to national security interests. The purpose, both civil and military, of projects financed by this fund gives rise to synergies that benefit military interests as a whole.

A further EUR 5 billion is available under the European Peace Facility for joint missions and aid to third countries. On balance, these funds act like hidden subsidies to the arms industry.

A further EUR 500 million is available through the European Defence Industry Reinforcement through common Procurement Act (EDIRPA) for the period 2022-2024, which was adopted in July 2022. ‘The Instrument will incentivise Member States, in a spirit of solidarity, to commonly procure and will facilitate access for all Member States to urgently needed defence products,’ the EU Commission announced, citing needs arising from the Ukraine war.[6]

That, in view of the financial measures, the EU will remain without an army is unlikely, at least since the presentation of the Strategic Compass in March 2022. As part of the measures envisaged there to develop crisis management, resilience, capabilities and partnerships, a new Rapid Deployment Capacity of 5,000 troops is also envisaged[7] and, by 2025, will be available for rescue and evacuation missions, alongside initial deployment within the framework of crisis intervention.

The 360-degree analysis of threat situations provided in the Strategic Compass is likely to provide long-term grounds for new arms and development initiatives that are difficult to control.

‘It has to be said, honestly, that MEPs’ means of control, especially in the field of foreign and security policy, are virtually zero, and one cannot frame this as simply complications,’ criticizes the MEP Özlem Alev Demirel of ‘Die Linke’. ‘Members of the European Parliament who were supposed to evaluate the Compass never saw the underlying analysis, as the claim was made that the data was from Member States. Members of the national parliaments were in turn unable to obtain the data because it is an EU document and was drawn up internationally… so much for transparency and control and verifiability.’

Considering all projects, budgets and strategic plans as a whole,[8] as well as the foreseeable increases in them, the idea of the peaceful nature of the European Union and the idea of a mediating role within the context of peace negotiations, which has not been taken up so far in the war in Ukraine either, is at risk of further damage.

European security at the expense of the world

The Sahel region and the actions taking place there within the context of French and European missions demonstrate that the response to crises with military and armaments[9] is not promising. Deployment there has failed to overcome the various causes of these crises, such as the ailing economies, strong population growth, weak institutions and social conflicts. In fact, operations in former colonial countries foster resistance among civilians when superficial promises to improve security are not fulfilled, even after several years.[10]

Following the failed military mission in Afghanistan and the foreseeable end in Mali, a reorientation and analysis of goals and resources is also necessary in the Sahel region[11].[12] It can already be seen that new operations will take place, as there is always economic potential in them. If, in future, means of constructive abstention are also used in military missions, the number of missions is likely to increase because of the national interests of individual or several Member States. Thus, the EU runs the risk of disengaged wars developing at the instigation of individual states. The campaign in Afghanistan carried out by the US, whose attacks under Operation Enduring Freedom were unjustifiable by defence, can be seen in a similar way. The alliance of NATO and non-NATO members, which came to the defence, provided substantial support. 

In view of these and many other aspects, such as the Frontex operations in the Mediterranean and the defensive measures at Europe’s external borders, left-wing European politicians must become clear about their role within the European Union so as not to lose the peace-promoting character of the alliance to the arms industry and economic lobbyists.

However, this also requires left-wing European politicians to present their own solutions when rejecting the established conventional security and defence policy. The need for the protection that security and defence alliances supposedly offer must also be incorporated into leftist solutions. Questions about a new European security order and common European defence must be answered by the left. How can stable, positive peace be achieved? What might the path leading to cooperative security policy look like in the face of aggressive, imperialist neighbours and global rivalry among superpowers? What might European strategic autonomy, with which the EU could act more independently internationally and, in particular, detach itself from the strategic interests of the USA, look like? 

Left-wing parties, like the peace movement, must find answers to these questions in order to regain greater and broader support.


On 8 and 9 September 2022, the Brussels office of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation held an expert meeting under the heading ‘Counteracting militarisation: Taking stock and common ways in the fight against the militarisation of the European Union’. It was subject to the Chatham House Rule.



Daniel Lücking – Journalist – PO Box 4 06 30 – 10 063 Berlin, Germany

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