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'If it walks like a duck, talks like a duck...' - Dublin MEP candidates clash over potential for EU army

RTÉ’s The Week in Politics saw five candidates debating the issue today.

Candidates in RTÉ's studio today.
Candidates in RTÉ's studio today.
Image: Twitter/rtetwip

DUBLIN MEP CANDIDATES have clashed over whether or not the European Union could move towards having a common army with Fianna Fáil’s Barry Andrews calling such claims “alarmist”.

The row took place on RTÉ’s The Week in Politics, which was hosting a debate involving five of the 19 candidates for four Dublin MEP seats.

Fine Gael candidate Mark Durkan was asked about recent comments by Manfred Weber, who is chair of the European People’s Party, the European Parliament grouping which also contains Fine Gael.

Weber, who is German, has backed Chancellor Angela Merkel’s commitment for a joint European army but Durkan said that was not the view of the wider group.

“Max Weber has set out that position, that is not the view of the European People’s Party, there’s no commitment to a European army in the manifesto,” Durkan said.

Look at the EPP manifesto, no singe army in that. The Fine Gael manifesto, very clear, no single army in that. So that’s the position.

“People might be free to set out their own views in accordance with whatever debate they’re having at national level, but we’re very clear in terms of Ireland’s position and our sense of where the EU should be, a single army is not part of it,” he said.

At the same debate at which Weber spoke in favour of an EU army, ALDE’s Guy Verhofstadt also said it was also his preference, arguing that it would save EU nations money by working together more closely on defence.

Fianna Fáil is a member of the ALDE grouping the European Parliament and Andrews said that greater defence cooperation is not about building an EU army.

“There’s a whole spectrum of opinion in the European Parliament and European Commission about this and in every EU election for the last 40 years and every EU referendum the threat of an EU army has been used in an alarmist way to try to colour people in an anti-EU fashion,” he said.

“Pesco on the other hand gives us an opportunity to improve our peacekeeping and peacemaking tradition in the Irish armed forces,” he added.

Pesco is the EU’s permanent structured defence cooperation arrangement and the Dáil voted in favour of membership in 2017.

Tender Mosel departs for EU deployment German marines in the Mediterranean on a mission to save migrants. Source: DPA/PA Images

Sinn Féin is opposed Ireland’s involvement in Pesco and Lynn Boylan MEP said that it was not “alarmist” to voice concerns about an EU army.

“The issue here is they can say we’re being alarmist but if it walks like a duck, talks like a duck it then it is a duck. We know both ALDE and the EPP support an EU army, that’s the facts, it’s in their manifesto,” she said.

“It’s not in their manifesto,” Durkan interjected.

“It’s not in their manifesto because Neale Richmond went out and asked them to take it out of the manifesto,” Boylan responded.

She added:

The issue is here if we return MEPs to those two political groups, that is the agenda of those two political groups, so it absolutely imperative to those who oppose a European army do not send MEPs to back that.

The EPP’s 2019 manifesto says the EU should “create a real defence capability by 2030″ but says this will “not replace any national army”.

(Click here if video doesn’t play)

Asked about the same issue, Labour’s Alex White says it’s not something that Irish people put much of a priority on.

“When the Irish people look to Europe to solve the preoccupations that they have, the last thing that’s on their list in my opinion is a European army. People do not want bombs, jets or anything else,” he said.

The Green Party’s Ciarán Cuffe was asked about whether Pesco could help Ireland’s military be better equipped.

“The Irish Defence Forces need the resources. They need decent pay for starters, they need the right equipment. That’s very different from Pesco which involves €13 billion of European spending without oversight,” he said.

“I don’t want to see a ramping up of defence forces or spending.”

Both Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron have laid out their commitment to a future joint European Army

Merkel has said closer defence ties aim to build a Franco-German “common military culture” and “contribute to the creation of a European army”.

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Rónán Duffy

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