Brussels: European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker`s call for an EU army to counter a more assertive Russia is impractical and will face strong resistance from many member states, analysts said Monday.
The idea is initially attractive because "pooling and sharing" would spread the defence burden at a time when government finances everywhere are under intense pressure, they said.
But in practice, it begs the question of how to reconcile the interests of 28 very different member states on the core sovereign "no-go" area of national defence, not to mention a possible overlap with NATO.
"I see lots of loose ends in this proposal which do not fit together," Markus Kaim of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin told AFP.
"A European army has nothing to do with Russia. What the additional benefit of a European army would be in this context is known only to Juncker."
Former Luxembourg prime minister Juncker, no stranger to controversy, was clear in what he saw as the benefits.
"A common army among the Europeans would convey to Russia that we are serious about defending the values of the European Union," Juncker told Germany`s Welt am Sonntag newspaper.
It would also be more cost effective and help drive the EU towards a common foreign and security policy, he said, downplaying concerns it might undercut NATO`s role.
Europeans could save up to 120 billion euros ($135 billion) a year, Juncker`s spokesman Margaritis Schinas said on Monday, stressing that Juncker had previously mentioned the plan.Of the EU`s 28 members, 22 also belong to NATO, the US-led military alliance set up in 1949 to protect Western Europe from the Soviet Union.
In response to Russia`s intervention in Ukraine and its annexation of Crimea, NATO has marshalled its own 28 member countries to reverse years of spending cuts and commit to a defence budget equal to two percent of annual economic output within 10 years.
It has also sent troops and equipment to its East European allies to reassure them of NATO`s commitment to their defence at a time when many fear Russia wants to re-establish its Soviet-era sphere of influence.
EU leaders at a December 2013 summit endorsed further steps towards greater defence cooperation, citing the need to make tight budgets go further.
But a suggestion the EU consider obtaining its own military capabilities was shot down by British Prime Minister David Cameron.
"It makes sense for nation states to cooperate over matters of defence to keep us all safer... but it is not right for the EU to have capabilities, armies, air forces and the rest of it," Cameron said at the time.
"We have to get that demarcation correct, between cooperation which is right but EU capabilities which is wrong."
Britain in 2010 signed a wide-ranging defence cooperation deal with France, which included the ability to use French aircraft carriers while it waited for its own new ships to enter service.Kaim, the German analyst, said Cameron may have appeared outspoken at the time but many other EU states are happy to see Britain take the lead.
"I think a lot of countries are comfortable in hiding behind Britain. Anything which smacks of a real deepening of (EU) integration does not have a majority, not only in Britain but also in Germany or France.
"Smaller states count on NATO as well. They do not want to rely on the imponderable EU," he said.
Janis Emmanouilidis at the European Policy Center in Brussels said Juncker -- a fervent federalist who just last week joked about the fact that tiny Luxembourg has no air force -- was grandstanding on the issue.
"Juncker likes to show that he can put issues on the agenda and that the Commission is a political actor but I do not think this will stay in the public arena for a long time."
Both Kaim and Emmanouilidis said military cooperation may make sense at the headline level but in reality, EU member states jealously guard their defence industries.
"We will see some flagship projects in pooling and sharing... but it will stay very small. The fundamental questions will be postponed," Kaim said.