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Eurocorps: A Force for the European Union and NATO

Military cooperation in Europe is by no means new. The integration of personnel from different EU countries into military units is also already a reality. An example of this is the Eurocorps in Strasbourg: five framework nations send soldiers to the multinational headquarters, which can lead up to 60,000 troops in EU or NATO operations if needed. An insight into the everyday life of the members of the Eurocorps could thus be an outlook on the future of the army of Europeans. Therefore Ethics and Armed Forces inquired about it at Eurocorps. Five soldiers from different European nations describe their motives, cultural similarities and differences and give personal assessments of military integration.


When did you join your national military and for what cause?
I joined the Spanish Army in 1999 following a voca­tional decision. Since I was a teenager I have always wanted to serve my country as a member of its Armed Forces. For me it was the right way to merge the will to serve my country and a demanding career.

Which experience in your military career had the strongest influence on you?
Spanish cadets spend five years in their respective military academies – Army, Navy or Air Force – to get their commission as active duty officers. No doubt the period I spent in the Spanish Army General Academy (General meaning “all branches”/combined-arms) has had the strongest influence on me, as there the foundations of my professionality and personality where laid. After that, once I was promoted to lieutenant, I joined the Army Aviation branch so piloting helicopters and to develop missions with rotary wings means has been the most exciting experience in my life. Other experiences as command commitments – platoon, company, and battalion level – have also had a great impact on my personal and professional maturity. Additionally, I have to mention my experience in real operational deployments to Bosnia, Afghanistan and Central African Republic as the most intense and shocking influences I have had. Finally, leadership and comradeship is a permanent inspirational influence on a daily basis.

Serving in a multinational staff, would you say that there is a common mindset among all the soldiers from different countries? And if so, does it come from a common military command culture or from shared European values?
The first answer is yes. In my opinion, military around the world share a common mindset, no matter their cultural, doctrinal or geographical respective background.

As for Eurocorps, I think that this shared mindset probably derives from both factors mentioned in the question. A common military command culture, including common ways to organize work and procedures, is clearly recognizable; but the set of European values – meaning a shared ethical approach to our profession and to our mission – also underpin our day to day work, our ways and our ends.

This is one of the best points to work in Eurocorps, a multinational environment permits to share, teach and learn knowledge, experiences and thoughts.

In daily business, what regional habits pose challenges to your work, and which habit deriving from another country has enriched you in your profession?
In 2018, Europe constitutes a common space, where regional habits overlap and are integrated in a natural way in daily business. None of them poses real challenges to cooperation, joint work, personal relations and shared mission apart from minor adjustments to day to day life details.  

However, national and regional particularities give a chance to improve cultural understanding, not only internally, but also in terms of understanding political, social, and geopolitical context. Geography, for instance, provides people with very different points of view and approaches to any given problem across Europe.

Multinational options to resolve different situations are the added values of working together in Eurocorps. 

Having a multinational staff is maybe one thing, but the integration of foreign combat units seems to be more complex. To what extent do you think military integration in Europe is useful?
First of all, military integration in Europe is a political issue, not a military challenge. Therefore, usefulness of military integrated forces should be primarily assessed in terms of political benefit, rather than pure military effectiveness.

Integration of foreign military units is a complex problem, indeed, but we have done it before in history – in Europe, for instance, since the ancient Greek times – and we do it on a daily basis when deployed in NATO, EU, or coalition led operations. Furthermore, multinational units in peace time are also operational nowadays in Europe, e.g. the Franco-German Brigade. So, from the technical point of view, integration of military units does not pose any unbeatable challenge. 

However, for military integration to be useful, synergies have to be identified, sustainment and training shared and properly funded, and scale and command and control requirements to be considered, for the sake of military effectiveness.

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OF-3 Jorge A., Spain


When did you join your national military and for what cause?
I joined the Belgian Army on the November 3,  1988 as a volunteer. At that time I was 18 years old and after High School, I could not decide what to study further on. Thirty years later, I’m still working as an NCO for the Belgian Ministry of Defense, more specifically at Eurocorps, a multinational Corps available for both the European Union and NATO.

Which experience in your military career had the strongest influence on you?
Belonging to the Belgian Medical Component, and qualified as Combat Medic I had the opportunity to participate in thirteen missions abroad. I had two tours of duty in Afghanistan where I was the Medical Liaison Officer (LNO) between the German Field Hospital and the Belgian Provincial Reconstruction Team/Operational Mentor and Liaison Team (PRT/OMLT). The daily work in the emergency room, the possibility to learn from other nations and being part of the first crucial medical treatment for allied casualties, impacted both my military and private life significantly.

Serving in a multinational staff, would you say that there is a common mindset among all the soldiers from different countries? And if so, does it come from a common military command culture or from shared European values?
So far, my experiences in a multinational staff are rather limited to a tour of five years. Nevertheless, I worked many times with other nations or in other national small scale organizations. The huge advantage of the military community is the well-structured command and control what makes it possible to be effective in international environment. 

Respecting at all times individual values and cultural backgrounds is the key to be successful in an international military environment especially in the Eurocorps, by far one of the most engaged and experienced Corps in Europe.

In daily business, what regional habits pose challenges to your work, and which habit deriving from another country has enriched you in your profession?
Within Eurocorps headquarters consisting of five framework nations, it’s quite easy to adapt to each other’s habits. It provides the opportunity to learn from each other.

Having a multinational staff is maybe one thing, but the integration of foreign combat units seems to be more complex. To what extent do you think military integration in Europe is useful?
Currently Eurocorps headquarters does not have any direct subordinated units. As a consequence, my answer is not based on previous experience. However, working on complex issues is challenging. There are no problems, through challenges one day the military integration will be achieved. It’s only a matter of time.

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OR-9 Eric D. , Belgium


When did you join your national military and for what cause? 
I joined the French military academy of Saint-Cyr in 1985. I had been interested in a military career for a long time, with the wish to become an officer, on the crossroad between reflection and action, to be granted human responsibilities and serve my country. I was and I still am fascinated by history and international relations. As an officer, I had the feeling I would be able to see this in real life.

Which experience in your military career had the strongest influence on you?
I consider my assignment to an OSCE mission in Georgia a few years ago as the most interesting and fascinating experience, where I could witness a real situation and act in cooperation with other nations aiming to promote stabilization.

Serving in a multinational staff, would you say that there is a common mindset among all the soldiers from different countries? And if so, does it come from a common military command culture or from shared European values?
There is on the whole a common mindset in Eurocorps, with colleagues belonging to different nations, but being very close culturally as convinced Europeans. We can say that we share the same fundamental values, but as officers we are also conscious of our different traditions and history. This makes things even more interesting and challenging.

In daily business, what regional habits pose challenges to your work, and which habit deriving from another country has enriched you in your profession?
Serving in a multinational environment is a fruitful experience. Each nation has indeed its military habits and style, and national regulations such as administrative procedures, leave policy, compensation after exercises … also play a certain role in daily business. Nevertheless, with intelligent and open-minded people who share a common style of training and military experience and have sometimes been involved in operations together, there is no problem at all. On the whole, each member of the staff, whatever nation he belongs to, tries to bring his best for the sake of the whole team.

Having a multinational staff is maybe one thing, but the integration of foreign combat units seems to be more complex. To what extent do you think military integration in Europe is useful?
Military integration at staff level is a daily rea­lity: Officers from different nations are just simply used to working and cooperating together. In some cases, they have followed training in the same academies, e.g. at École de Guerre or Führungs­akademie, and have served on the same theaters like former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Mali and others. This integration is not so simple to implement at combat unit level, where national standards, regulations, manpower, equipment, etc. prevail. An army remains established on a national basis as a fundamental state institution, even if efforts are made to promote integration between close European nations in a “coalition of the willing” spirit. European military integration remains a progressive and medium-running process.

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OF-4 Edward T., France


When did you join your national military and for what cause? 
I was conscripted for military service in October 1994. But I had already decided before then to become a regular soldier and go in for officer training. My father was also a career officer, so from an early age I had insights into everyday military life. The Cold War and the longstanding latent threat from the Warsaw Pact no longer existed at the time I made my decision. Even in those days, I was aware that history keeps moving on, and nothing lasts forever. But one singular, defining experience was the outbreak of civil war in the Balkans. I didn’t want to believe that a conflict like that was still possible on European soil. I saw longer-term service in the armed forces – as a regular soldier and later as a career soldier – as a useful way of actively dealing with the consequences of such a conflict as part of peace support operations, or of preventing them through a defensive potential, i.e. being able to fight in order not to have to fight.

Which experience in your military career had the strongest influence on you?
I find it quite difficult to pick one experience, so I would like to mention the aspects that have affected me personally and professionally.

During one of my deployments in Afghanistan, one of my soldiers killed himself. He was a fellow soldier who I thought I had a good rapport with. His sudden death and its consequences – bringing his body back to Germany and handing it over to his family, his burial on December 23, one day before Christmas – made a deep impression on me as a young battery commander. It always reminds me that you can only ever look into a soldier’s face, but never his thoughts or heart.

Serving in a multinational staff, would you say that there is a common mindset among all the soldiers from different countries? And if so, does it come from a common military command culture or from shared European values?
I would say that soldiers in democracies always have a similar basic military attitude, a similar mindset. A conservative orientation, and therefore positive toward more traditional values like comradeship, loyalty, performance of duty and service (to the community). You are committed to an idea (such as the constitution and the basic values contained within it), not to a leadership personality. The awareness that your own freedom, your own way of life are not things that can be taken for granted – they are achievements that have to be actively maintained and consistently protected. That is true of my experiences with European and also transatlantic soldiers. As for a special characteristic among European soldiers, it might have more to do with the extremely turbulent history that they have lived through together. It affects how they relate to one another, especially in central Europe. There is a tangible and visible awareness of the value of free and peaceful cooperation.

The celebration of common holidays and days of remembrance, e.g. the end of WWI or II, is an example of this. These memorial days mark eras when, in some cases, our own grandfathers faced each other on the battlefield.

In daily business, what regional habits pose challenges to your work, and which habit deriving from another country has enriched you in your profession?
As for challenges, a simple example, but one you encounter on a daily basis, is the way that soldiers of different ranks behave toward one another. In some armies, the separation of ranks is stricter and more clearly noticeable than in the German armed forces. In the Bundeswehr, the question of how you behave toward a particular soldier depends more on their task and area of responsibility than their actual rank. So a lower-ranking German soldier can have his voice heard by a group of higher-ranking officers, if he has more detailed knowledge or a deeper understanding in a particular environment. In some nations, rank barriers preclude dealing with soldiers in such a way from the outset.

With regard to enrichment, particularly while working together with officers and NCOs from countries that have relatively small armed forces, I have been impressed by their international experience and great professionalism. Luxembourg (which is represented by just two posts in the Eurocorps) and Belgium are excellent examples of this – whether because of their impressive language skills or because of their ability to integrate effectively into a multinational environment, without giving up their own identity.

Having a multinational staff is maybe one thing, but the integration of foreign combat units seems to be more complex. To what extent do you think military integration in Europe is useful?
I can only envisage any useful and deep-rooted integration of task forces in the traditional sense (Article 5, Major Combat +) as far as division level at most, where it would already be limited. On the tactical level, during deployments, your decisions and actions are just too fast and agile to allow uncertainty or misunderstandings in command and leadership. The differences between various schools of thought within officer training, political restrictions on the deployment of armed forces, but also the ever greater complexity of communication and command equipment – areas in which national reservations are often indirectly reflected in development and procurement – are obstacles to effective and agile armed forces. In my opinion, the main responsibility for fighting should always be under clear national leadership and control. This does not rule out the integration of individual posts.

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OF-4 Burkhard W., Germany


When did you join your national military and for what cause?
In October 1982. For serving my motherland.

Which experience in your military career had the strongest influence on you?
Different experiences, such as: 1. Training the soldiers to give them their values, discipline and everything else you learn in the army for the path of your life. 2. Different foreign operations. 3. To be able to serve the Grand Duke and his family. And 4. Right now start my assignment to Eurocorps.

Serving in a multinational staff, would you say that there is a common mindset among all the soldiers from different countries? And if so, does it come from a common military command culture or from shared European values?
Military thinking is a meticulous thinking as well as the language style of the military.

Sometimes misunderstandings can occur, but they can be solved through the experience and maturity of the individuals.

In daily business, what regional habits pose challenges to your work, and which habit deriving from another country has enriched you in your profession?

The most important enrichment is to work in an international military environment, where you have the opportunity to continuously meet new people.

Having a multinational staff is maybe one thing, but the integration of foreign combat units seems to be more complex. To what extent do you think military integration in Europe is useful?
36 years ago I could never have imagined working with foreign military men from the Eastern Bloc. The mindset of the Cold War was in our heads and it was impossible to think otherwise. But during the 1990s everything changed, Europe has developed into something else. The European Union has achieved something that also brought different thinking and action to the military, which today makes a difference to everyone in terms of international security. Due to the current uncertainty in the whole world because of terrorism alone, it is important to stand up together, making sense for military integration in Europe.

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OR-9 Frank S., ­Luxemburg