Rough Waters For The European Union So Far In 2021

Author’s Note: Just a short post this evening, but I will get back on track tomorrow or Wednesday. –Mike

2021 is less than two months old and already, the European Union has been made painfully aware (once again) of its limitations. So far, 2021 has highlighted the deep divide between the grandiose designs of the EU and its limited capabilities. Even more urgent for Brussels has been the sudden lack of design or guidance from the executive EU’s executive arm.

The COVID-19 vaccines scandal is becoming the straw that could, potentially, break the bloc’s back. In short, the EU has been overconfident about vaccine production and costs. The rollout process has been slow and disorganized. Meanwhile, in Great Britain 12 million citizens have received their first dosage of vaccine, surpassing the EU in number of shots given as well as distribution time.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has come under increasingly heavy fire over the EU’s stuttered vaccine rollout. She has admitted being overconfident about production targets, and the original timelines, but that is where the mea culpa stops. She has failed to accept responsibility for the foul ups or present a realistic plan to the governments and people of member-states. In other words, von der Leyen has left much of the continent hanging in the breeze as she tries to craft a patch for this particular crisis.

If this weren’t enough, two weeks ago the EU announced its intention to invoked Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocols. Fortunately, saner head prevailed. That’s a topic worth discussing more in the near future when more time is available.

Pandemic Politics: In the Absence of EU Leadership….

BELGIUM-EU-HEALTH-VIRUS

While the Continent grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic, the European Union is struggling to step up and provide the leadership one would naturally expect from a supra-national body in a time of crisis. Instead, the supposed advantages of the ‘One Europe’ concept which have been extolled by the EU for well over twenty years have turned out to be little more than a bill of goods. The moment has arrived when EU member-states are looking towards Brussels to take the lead in the fight against COVID-19. To their dismay they’ve found nothing even resembling leadership. As the pandemic’s grip on Europe tightens, the weaknesses of the EU are in the spotlight. Brussels has failed to provide coordination of efforts or to take the initiative in developing, and implementing measures to fight the virus.

Instead, EU member-states are looking internally and developing national solutions. Border control is the issue where this has been seen most. A number of member-states have taken firm control of its national borders and imposed selective closures or other necessary actions, in complete disregard to Schengen, and EU recommendations regarding border control. In the early days of the crisis, as it became apparent how grave the situation could potentially become, some member-states decided to unilaterally hold back from exporting medical equipment to Italy, the EU nation that has suffered most from the pandemic. The message being projected from these actions is not ‘One Europe’ but something more along the lines of ‘When the going gets tough, nation-states will revert to form and look out for itself first.’

EU Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen has missed the opportunity to get out in front of the crisis. The vacuum that has developed in the absence of EU leadership and ability to organize COVID-19 strategy directly led to the nation-first approaches cropping up around Europe. In the words of a European Parliament member, the reaction of the Commission, and the EU as a whole has been “Too late, too slow, too little.”

As the crisis continues to play out, EU leadership has to be wondering how the fumbles, and missed opportunities of today will affect the political picture in Europe in the aftermath of COVID-19.

Germany’s Defense Woes Continue

973793

The combat readiness of Germany’s armed forces has deteriorated significantly in recent years, and it is safe to say the German military is on the edge of a major crisis. Berlin’s efforts to remedy the situation appear to have only worsened it in some instances. Unfortunately for Germany, the problem is no longer simply only a national one. It has become a NATO matter as the consequences of a severely weakened German military will be felt most by the alliance’s three most vulnerable members to the east. The state of Germany’s armed forces is raising doubts about NATO’s ability to defend Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania against Russian aggression.

Germany’s military readiness has become so bad that its latest annual readiness report was classified for ‘security reasons.’ This has never happened before and is leading some German politicians to conclude that the true condition of the Bundeswehr is worse than believed. Another theory put forward is that the report was classified for political reasons. Specifically, to allow Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen to survive. She has been under constant fire from critics for her inability to solve the readiness issues. Keeping the German public in the dark about these matters would give von der Leyen some breathing space.

On Monday Germany’s proposed 2020 budget was made public. Military spending will increase, yet still remain below NATO’s 2% of GDP commitment for each member-state to spend on its armed forces. The Trump administration is not happy with this development, and rightfully so. Germany has been dragging its heels on reaching the 2% mark and rectifying its readiness shortfalls for quite some time now. In fact, instead of aiming for 2%, Angela Merkel’s government is just hoping to be able to reach 1.5% within three years.

Germany’s failure to live up to its NATO spending commitments, as well as its weakened military state contradict its emphatic support of the international order. Multilateralism is the cornerstone of German foreign policy, yet Berlin appears entirely comfortable not living up to the commitments it made to the NATO alliance, a multilateral institution. While this is a clear cut  geopolitical example of the pot calling the kettle back, Angela Merkel likely views it as a case of realpolitik where common sense and practicalities prevail.

Wednesday 22 February, 2017 Update: Germany To Increase Troop Levels

365463545626345626

Germany has unveiled new plans to increase the size of its armed forces by 20,000 over the next seven to eight years. In her statement announcing the plan, German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said that the Bundeswehr has “rarely been as necessary as it is now.” The statement leaves one to wonder whether Berlin’s motivation stems from complaints made by the Trump administration about many NATO members not carrying their weight militarily, or from the reality that a new security situation is forming in Eastern Europe is unknown. Frankly, at this juncture it does not matter. What does matter is that the German government is growing more committed to reversing the steep decline that has infected the Bundswehr since the end of the Cold War. That bodes well for Germany and the entire NATO alliance.

Details have not been released yet. There is no official word on how the 20,000 new recruits will be dispersed among the service branches which make up the Bundeswehr, however, it is safe to assume that the bulk will end up in the German Army, or as it is known in Germany, the HEER. The Luftwaffe and German Navy can use more manpower as well. In 2011 Germany ended conscription and set a manpower requirement for 185,000 soldiers in the post-conscription years. Right now, the Bundeswehr’s active strength sits at roughly 178,000. Manpower is not the only woe affecting the Bundeswehr. In 2014, equipment and spare part shortages, as well as maintenance issues became so troubling that there was concern Germany would be unable to live up to its NATO obligations.

Since that low point, Germany has taken steps to improve the readiness of its armed forces. Defense spending is increasing, the number of main battle tanks in active service is being expanded, equipment and maintenance issues with the Luftwaffe’s Tornado squadrons is being redressed. These actions, together with the plan announced today, are encouraging signs. But it is only a beginning and the road to the Bundeswehr becoming a first-rate military once more, will be a long one.

As a historical note, it’s useful to remember that France, Russia and Poland were all modernizing their militaries in 1939, looking ahead to have more capable forces fielded by 1942-43. Unfortunately, the Germans were not prepared to sit idly by and wait for their potential enemies to bulk up their forces before kicking off Act Two of the Great European Civil War.

Jumping ahead to the modern day, the hope is that there will be enough time for the Bundeswehr reforms to take effect. Whether or not that happens will not be up to the men and women in Berlin,  but the men in Moscow.