Refugee Crisis Versus Hungary-EU Relations: A Joint Military Force as a Solution?

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Although the concept of a common EU military force cannot be considered a novelty in the European political agenda, it is quite unprecedented that the suggestion is made by Hungarian parties that are unable to agree on any of the current political questions – especially regarding the humanitarian crisis caused by migration.

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s intention to monopolise the interpretations and the possible solutions (both for the refugee crisis and for all issues concerning the future role of the EU) can be clearly seen by examining his speech on the Visegrad summit in August. He described how he thinks the EU should function, which is – in his opinion – the same as it was always meant to work: The European Council should lead (enforcing the will of member states’ leaders) while the Commission should withdraw from its political role.

On the other hand, a recent statement of Luxembourg’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Jean Asselborn provoked extensive press coverage. He expressed his views on how Hungary should be excluded from the EU as a consequence of its constant violations against the EU’s founding principles, and for its unacceptable behavior regarding the refugee crisis or its questionable attitude towards press freedom and judicial independence. He also added that if Hungary was to apply today, it would not stand a chance of gaining EU membership.

Assertions like these can paint a saddening but realistic picture of how far Hungary and the EU are from achieving the common goal of finding a solution that is suitable – or at least acceptable – for all affected parties. They also raise the following question: Could the idea of a joint military unite the otherwise so contradictory viewpoints regarding what role the EU shallplay in the times ahead?

The question of a common EU force was brought to the European agenda again by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on September 14. In his annual speech to the European Parliament he called for greater defence cooperation and came up with the idea of a joint command headquarters for EU military missions in the hope of reviving the EU’s old efforts to reduce reliance on the United States.

President Juncker’s statement was preceded by PM Viktor Orbán’s speech to the Hungarian National Assembly in which he suggested almost the same while he emphasised that the “true believers” in the European Union are the Hungarian and the Polish citizens as they are the ones whose intention is not to leave the EU but to make it stronger. He also criticised Brussels’ naivety and blamed it for letting Britain leave.

Orban’s concerns about the UK leaving the Union might be justifiable as it brings many significant changes to the European defence policy since Great Britain possesses one of Europe’s most combat-worthy military force (followed by the French army). Consequently, it was also the British who completely opposed the idea of a joint military force, and who were entirely pleased with the idea of calling for the NATO (implying the involvement of the US and some non-EU countries) in case of absolute need of military engagement. Thereby with the Brexit, the biggest barrier was removed from the way of creating a common EU military force.

Nevertheless, what sounds viable in theory does not seem to be operable in practice. As security policy expert Dániel Bartha points out, “since Hungary joined NATO, the country has followed an active policy in participating in international missions, trying to meet its commitments of keeping 1,000 soldiers in missions continuously”, which is hard enough to maintain even without additional expectations towards the country to produce extra troops to supply some EU missions as well. This, in turn, could easily lead to a negligence of Hungary’s NATO obligations.

Furthermore, backing out from NATO responsibilities could not only elicit the United States’ disapproval, but – among others – could also cause bad blood between Hungary and its presumed greatest ally, Poland, as it needs a strong NATO to countervail the power of Russia – especially since the emergence of the Ukrainian crisis when all of the European countries had a chance to feel on their own skin how the conflicts and actual relations between Russia and the US could determine the international relations in the whole region.

Additionally, as Bartha emphasises, even in case of a successful creation of a joint EU military, a force like this would be unimaginably hard to control (it would assumedly lack a dominant, consensus-forming member like the US in the respect of the NATO). It would presumably require the consensus of all member states which appears to be nearly impossible – enough to think about the handling of the abovementioned conflict to find a great example of how hard it was for all affected states to agree even on such a seemingly unifying issue like the restrictive measures against Russia in response to its illegal annexation of Crimea.

Therefore, a creation of a common EU military force is not necessarily an unavailing idea, but as a substitution for a political consensus it seems a bit inadequate. A force like this would presumably be unable to solve problems such as the refuge crisis since – just like the NATO – it would lack both the ability and the ambition to do so.

Orsolya Szabo Palocz
Free Market Foundation