50 years of EUROMIL – Interview with the President Emmanuel Jacob and Vice-President Jörg Greiffendorf
These articles are part of EUROMIL’s fiftieth anniversary commemorations. The original article was written by DBwV in German. You can read it here.
“We also need a turning point at European level”
“In 1972 the day had come: all the soldiers of Europe should speak with one voice. EUROMIL is established. The right of association and co-determination, which the DBwV vigorously enforced, are the norm in all EU armies. The fight goes on.”
Die Bundeswehr: The first question is for the President. 50 years of EUROMIL, an anniversary marked by dramatic changes in the security architecture of Europe. One could almost say we are back where we were in 1972 – during the Cold War?
Emmanuel Jacob: Yes and no! Of course the current situation gives people the impression to be back in the Cold War period. However, we may not forget that the situation is somehow different. The Cold War was primarily an ideological struggle between capitalism in the West and communism in the East and it was led by the US and the USSR. This is not really the case today. Now, Putin is leading a form of imperialism and aiming at the restoration of the former Russian empire. In the recent decades, the period after the cold war has often been described as the period between the cold war and something else. What was coming since 2014 is now a reality. That something else is the year 2022.
There are some elements we should have in mind before looking at the current situation. At first, the old USSR is no longer there and the US is politically in a rather difficult era. Secondly the nuclear arsenals have declined drastically after the non-proliferation treaties that Washington and Moscow concluded in the eighties and the nineties. And last but not least, in recent decades, we have seen that at certain times the US and Russia agitated together, such as in Afghanistan and during the ‘War on terror’.
But despite these circumstances, we must not forget that the cold war remained always present in geopolitics. Both Moscow and Washington have different geopolitical interests. Both have important defense budgets and international strategic military bases. Furthermore, there is also NATO with its political power and a significant number of member states. The fact that NATO’s presence meanwhile extends to the borders of Russia and to several former Soviet and Warsaw Pact member states, as Poland and the Baltic states included, is a thorn in Russia’s side. For this reason, Russia has seen NATO’s eastward expansion as a threat since the nineties. And it is this tension that has reached a new high in February 2022. However if this now means that the current crisis is the beginning of a new cold war – it is to be seen. But one thing is for sure, it will influence our daily life. We already see clearly the influence on Europe’s security and defence policy as well as the drastically changes in the geopolitical environment; And this will last for at least a decade.
But not only a lookalike Cold war scenario will influence our (near) future. More to the south, the problems in the Balkans are getting visible once again. In Kosovo the Serbian minority feels targeted, while in Bosnia they are threatening secession. Meanwhile Turkey and Iran are bracing for an offensive against the Kurds in Syria, while Russia is also present in that country. We should also add that during the past weeks Israel and the Palestinian militias in Gaza are bombarding each other with rockets. And finally in Africa food prices are rising, and at the same time drought and violence are expanding migration flows.
Do we need more to be concerned?
Die Bundeswehr: In a special session of the German Bundestag on February 27, 2022, the German Chancellor Olaf Scholz used the term “Zeitwende” (time change), which was then widely used: Is a “European Zeitwende” now also necessary in improving the social conditions of soldiers in the national Armed forces of the member states of the European Union, keyword: coalition right?
Jörg Greiffendorf: Of course, a turning point is also required at European level. Because everything that needs to be done now in the light of the war in Ukraine – in other words, a significant strengthening of national and allied defence in particular – always has a European dimension. Thus, no European country can defend itself on its own; we need the solidarity of everyone in Europe. In my opinion, this also includes ensuring that the social conditions for all soldiers in Europe are equal. We need strong armies that are ready for action, so we need the best women and men for these troops, and we can only attract them on the labor market if we are correspondingly competitive in terms of social framework conditions. Today, the Bundeswehr has, for example, problems attracting specialists, for the career of non-commissioned officers with seniority; this is no different in other armies.
You raised the issue of the right of coalition. There is no question that we want to and must continue to fight to ensure that the comrades in Europe are on an equal footing in that respect. A European turnaround also includes political votes for a common energy and resource policy. It must be prevented that Russia – for example through gas supply contracts with Hungary – can use the energy policy lever to unbalance the European Union. Or consider the recent news that huge quantities of natural gas have been discovered off Cyprus. In any case, it is essential to ensure that the extraction of this mineral resource does not lead to a further escalation of the already tense relationship between Turkey and Greece – also with regard to NATO. Besides, even Japan is now facing a reassessment of how to deal with the peaceful use of nuclear power, this should also be a wake-up call for Germany and Europe. The key question in political debates must be: Which are our priorities? Does there really have to be European homogenization on every political, economic or social issue, or is it not better, wiser, to accept certain divergences in order to achieve the common goal. The goal is to build a Europe that is strong externally, including militarily. Perhaps a balanced plurality internally will make Europe stronger overall. This decision would also be a turning point.
Die Bundeswehr: Mr. Jacob, what are the current challenges for EUROMIL?
Emmanuel Jacob: Our challenges are many and difficult to line up in a list. Of course there is no doubt that our first challenge is to work on the goals of EUROMIL as already set out in 1972 at its foundation, namely defending military personnel all over Europe and making sure that they are seen as a citizen in uniform. The most important pillar to achieve this is to make sure that every European soldier has the right to form and join professional associations or trade unions to collectively represent them and defend their social and working conditions. I know that this sounds evident for the DBwV members, but believe me when I say that it is not the case everywhere. So yes, even after fifty years and despite the fact that the European Union and the Council of Europe member states signed international treaties giving certain rights to military personnel, the implementation for their soldiers is still pending.
Beside working on our basic goals, EUROMIL has several specific challenges to work on in the years to come. Once again, it is impossible to draw up a list with potential issues to deal with, but let me give you some of examples of what will – without any doubt- be prominent on our agenda and challenge our common efforts.
Climate change affects our everyday lives, but many aspects of the subject are yet to be widely explored. For example, the impact of the defence sector on the environment, and vice versa, represents a relatively uncharted territory and since a while EUROMIL is actively working on this issue. Climate change affects the security and stability of a territory, while the efficiency of military operations is also at stake. Therefore it is important to note that both the European Union and NATO have recognised climate change as a threat multiplier and are working towards energy efficient forces, while successfully carrying on military missions, operations and training. Climate change not only affects the health and efficiency of soldiers during missions and operations, but military personnel are often deployed by states and governments to assist during natural catastrophes and extreme weather events. However, soldiers rarely have the proper equipment to respond to such challenges and thus it is needed that EUROMIL and its member associations deal with this issue.
These two examples are only the external factors that will challenge us in the years to come. It will however also be important that EUROMIL after 50 years of existence prepares itself for the future. It will be a challenge for the Board and in a second phase for the General Assembly, as representatives of the member associations, to discuss and agree on the future of EUROMIL at least for the next decade. We do not only need to discuss problems, but we need to get our minds clear on resources, strategies and future agendas. Let me just drop one questions that should be addressed. EUROMIL is reaching the limits of possible member associations throughout Europe. Shouldn’t we think on expending our attention towards veterans and reserve personnel?
No doubt we will have many challenges to deal with in the years to come, but allow me however to repeat that it is important that EUROMIL must be flexible and be able to tackle new and unexpected issues that suddenly appear on our agenda. At that point 2022 is a good example on how things can suddenly change. Who expected mid-February that some months later Sweden and Finland would join NATO and that Denmark would join European defence?
Die Bundeswehr: Keyword: Strategic Compass. What steps do the EU member states currently have to take to substantially strengthen the common security and defense policy?
Jörg Greiffendorf: Another challenge for the years to come is without any doubt the implementation of the Strategic Compass which is a very ambitious document that leads towards greater European defence integration. The advancement of European Defence and the fact that Member States are committing to it, creates a new momentum for military personnel and EUROMIL to advocate and promote the social pillar of the Armed Forces. The Rapid Deployment Capacity (RDC) represents an important development, as it will be constituted with up to 5000 troops which will train and exercise together and it will be financed under the European Peace Facility (EPF). Financing the RDC by the EPF creates a new momentum for European Defence and for military personnel. Now, it is more evident than ever that soldiers who train and work together and are paid by the same fund should also enjoy the same working and social rights. Besides, we need to make sure that soldiers receive proper training and are able to respond to emerging threats as climate change – as already mentioned as a main challenge for EUROMIL and its members.
Die Bundeswehr: If you both wanted to convey three messages to the DBwV membership from this 50th anniversary at EUROMIL, what would it be?
Emmanuel Jacob: Before giving any messages, allow me to thank the DBwV for the leadership since the early 70’s to the present day, for their support to EUROMIL and by extension to the European military community. I am not convinced that without the perseverance and continued commitment of the DBwV, our umbrella organisation would still exist under its current form. However, let me repeat the words of one of my predecessors: if EUROMIL was not founded in 1972, we should do it today!
My first message to the DBwV membership would be that the European solidarity among members of the military community as set up in the early 70’s, must be continued. More than ever, European military personnel is joining its efforts to become a real European Defence Union and in such a community we must take care of each other. Solidarity can in this context not only be a slogan, but must be translated in reality. We may not leave someone behind!
Jörg Greiffendorf: With the second message I would like to underline the need for clear and common positions discussed and decided in an open and respectful framework. One of the biggest challenges for EUROMIL is the diversity in member associations, going from old(er) and strong(er) associations to young and less experienced once with almost no resources. This is not only a call for solidarity as already mentioned, but also for understanding. Together we must every time again make sure that we go hand in hand towards the future and go for the highest possible standards for all.
Emmanuel Jacob: Last but not least, I would like to send a message, or even a call, to our friends of the DBwV never to give up their commitment and European engagement. Not only because EUROMIL and its member associations need the DBwV, but also because the DBwV needs EUROMIL and its partners. Alone we can of course be strong, but only on the national level without an international dimension. The international factor is getting more important and stronger by the day. Therefore joining our forces and make the best possible choices to spent the available resources is more important than ever before! Only by joining our forces and having clear common targets, we will be successful!