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Estonian, Latvian, Polish officials sceptical of Juncker's EU army idea

  • 2015-03-11
  • from wire reports and TBT staff, RIGA/TALLINN/WARSAW

On Tuesday, Latvian and Polish officials voiced scepticism over calls for the creation of a European Union army to counter a militarily resurgent Russia, the AFP news agency reports.

"It's a very risky idea," Polish Foreign Minister Grzegorz Schetyna told Poland's 'Radio Zet' in reaction to Sunday's proposal by European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker.

Juncker has called for the creation of an EU army following rising tensions with Russia, saying the force could help defend European values and counter new threats beyond the region's borders.

"First of all we have to ask where to raise money to finance such an army, how the combat units will work, who will be in charge of training them," Schetyna said.

His sentiments were echoed by Latvian Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma on Monday.

"There is a possibility it could be discussed in July at the European Council, but it's important to check whether this might be duplicating NATO," she told the Latvian public broadcaster LTV.

Poland joined NATO in 1999 ahead of the three former Soviet-ruled Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania which joined in 2004, AFP noted. All four members have urged the alliance to boost its presence in the region since Russia's annexation of the Crimean peninsula last year.

NATO is countering Moscow's moves by boosting defenses on Europe's eastern flank, planning to create a spearhead force of 5,000 troops and command centers in six formerly communist member states: the three Baltic states, Bulgaria, Poland and Romania.

General Stanislaw Koziej, a security adviser to Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski, said Juncker's idea was an impractical "dream".

"These days, nobody in Europe, no single country is contemplating giving up its sovereignty," said Koziej. "To have an army, you need first of all a political decision-maker who would deploy such an army," added the general, urging the EU to make its priority further political integration of Europe.

Former Estonian prime minister Siim Kallas also expressed doubts about Juncker's idea, pointing out that finding consensus would be difficult and that there is already a functioning equivalent in the form of NATO. Kallas, who was prime minister from 2002 to 2003 and has also served as European Commission Vice-President, told Estonian Public Broadcasting's radio station Vikerkaar that "it is quite a complicated and fascinating debate," adding that it is quite understandable why Finland immediately gave its support to the idea: Finland is not in NATO and Kallas believes that the Finns feel isolated.

"If they could now enter international security cooperation with some other model, then they would be very happy," said Kallas.

Kallas believes, however, that Juncker's plan will not be successful.

"To start creating a European army, we face all these same things - how is it managed, how are decisions made," he reasoned.

Kallas gave as an example that if one country wanted to go to war in Africa, and another other in Russia, it would difficult to to implement a decision.Kallas said that if there was a need for a unit that would fight against Russia, he very much doubts that all EU member states would unanimously agree to it. In Kallas' opinion, the focus should instead be on strengthening European border units and police forces.

"Europe is weak when it is unable to prevent internal conflict," he emphasised.