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Minimum Standards Must Apply! No Europeanization of the Armed Forces without Innere Führung

Greater focus on security and defense in European politics

With the changed security environment re­sulting from the annexation of Crimea, the military conflicts in eastern Ukraine, the situation in the Middle East and not least the shift in American policy under the Trump administration, the debate over greater European cooperation within the EU has intensified. One of the ideas behind this is that security and defense can at least complement the single market – the current “binding agent” in the EU – and therefore could be a suitable policy instrument to promote cohesion in the EU after Brexit.

In 2017, the European Commission launched a process of reflection on the future of the EU. Among various published documents, the “Reflection paper on the future of European defense”1 of June 7, 2018 sets out scenarios for common defense and security. The third of these scenarios envisages extensive integration of armed forces at the European level.

As part of the process of giving concrete form to European cooperation in matters of defense policy (Permanent Structured Cooperation, PESCO), the document adopted in December 2017 describes and considers greater political and also military cooperation between the signatory countries. A list of priority projects from March 6, 20182 also points to further integration steps.

In its medium-term financial planning, the European Commission includes a defense fund of 18 billion euros. Thus a debate on greater integration has also found expression in the EU’s budgetary policy.

It is true that PESCO, like the planned defense fund, is focused mainly on common armaments policy – not least with a view to potential savings and enhanced effectiveness through European cooperation. Nevertheless, the question of actually developing European integrated armed forces is now more present in the (professional-level) policy debate.

This raises specific questions concerning the internal structure of such armed forces – and hence also the question of the validity of the concept of Innere Führung (leadership development and civic education) in the European context.

Foreseeable problem areas in the integration of European armed forces

It is apparent that greater military cooperation, and European integration going beyond current established structures, raise a series of problems owing to different national leadership cultures and inner structures. These problems will need to be addressed in the subsequent course of Europeanization processes.

The issues relate in particular to questions of Innere Führung, the concept of the citizen in uniform, the trade union representation of military personnel, participation structures, and to different positions on gender and diversity issues.

Just a few points are listed here:

There are considerable differences between leadership cultures in European armies. Some differ greatly from German concepts of the citizen in uniform and Innere Führung.

Different military law systems. For example, the right of members of the armed forces to make complaints simply does not exist in some European armies. In contrast to Germany, some partner armies have their own military criminal jurisdiction.

Different types of embedding in political structures. In Germany, we have a parliamentary army. This is not the case in other countries. Also the primacy of politics is much more highly developed in Germany than elsewhere.

This results in a different type of embedding in parliamentary structures. Germany is almost unique in this respect with its Parliamentary Commissioner for the Armed Forces (Wehrbeauftragter des Deutschen Bundestages).

The handling of the gender issue differs greatly among the European partner armies.

The transfer of policing responsibilities to a gendarmerie force as part of the military structure is common practice in some European countries, but in Germany it is not provided for in the Basic Law (Grundgesetz).

Protection of trade union freedoms for military personnel and members of the armed forces. This is explicitly prohibited in some European countries, or is frowned upon.

And politically, the EU so far lacks a clear strategy for its security and foreign policy. A European White Paper on this topic is urgently required.

Joint armed forces need a European Innere Führung

If the integration of these very different inner structures is to succeed, and there is also to be legal certainty for military personnel in the integrated EU force, then it is essential to develop a common European concept of Innere Führung.

Therefore further points should be developed too, such as the legal basis for deployments by resolution of the European Union, or also for greater continuous military cooperation.

Here it is particularly important to consider the extent to which new European regulations are necessary, with the European Charter of Fundamental Rights serving as common ground. At any rate, the Charter is a binding basis for action by the European institutions. Thus a common European constitutional consensus has been reached, which the development of a value-based inner structure could refer to.

And unlike an association with a purely military purpose, the norms of the Charter of Fundamental Rights should provide a common basis of values that also determine external action by the EU as a whole.

Then, similarly, if there is to be more continuous cooperation, questions concerning different pay structures, different pension benefits and other material aspects would need to be resolved. It would be hard to see why personnel in integrated units should receive different pay and benefits for performing the same activity. This would be another area where the principle of equal pay for equal work would apply.

And of course the right of co-determination as well as trade union activities and representation would have to be uniformly regulated for the European army.

Furthermore, the role of the European Parliament with a requirement for parliamentary approval would need to be clarified, and then not least, in my opinion, there would also need to be a European parliamentary commissioner in the European Parliament. The Federal Republic of Germany cannot allow its strict standards of parliamentary oversight to be eroded.

At the same time,  as more concrete form of cooperation is taken on step by step, it is important to develop the previously different national leadership cultures and inner structures of the armed forces in such a way as to ensure democratic control over deployments under European command.

The concept of the “citizen in uniform” should be safeguarded, i.e. military personnel must be granted the right to vote and the right to stand as candidates in elections, as well as freedom of association. Restriction of the fundamental rights of military personnel should be reduced to the absolute necessary minimum for military purposes. The duty of obedience should be restricted to lawful military orders. The European Parliament should develop effective mechanisms to monitor and enforce these principles.

First steps

It is suggested that within the PESCO projects, there should also be a project for the further development of a European leadership structure and culture. This should focus in particular on questions of the different systems and cultures in the individual European armies. It would also involve identifying how and which common ethical and political values are present in the individual national cultures, and how these could be connected together in everyday military life.

Here the German armed forces could offer various possibilities – particularly the Center for Leadership Development and Civic Education (Zentrum Innere Führung) – for continued work, together with other European partners, on the question of the Europeanization of Innere Führung.

1 European Comission (2017): Reflection Paper on the Future of European Defence., (accessed November 7, 2018).


2 European Council (2017): Defence cooperation: Council adopts an implementation roadmap for the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO). (accessed November 7, 2018).



Klaus Beck was born in 1952, holds a Diplom degree in education, and lives in Ludwigshafen am Rhein. He did his military service from 1971 to 1973, and was subsequently a Reservist Hauptmann. Until mid-2018, he worked as a trade union secretary in the German Trade Union Confederation (DGB). Beck is a member of the advisory panel for “Innere Führung” (leadership development and civic education) at the German Federal Ministry of Defense (BMVg), where his main focuses are the Europeanization of “Innere Führung,” the relationship between the German Armed Forces and ­s­ociety, and the problems experienced by military personnel who suffered war-zone trauma.