Churchill’s Lesson for Today’s Ministers on EU Defence

The new European Defence Union is in many ways identical to the failed European Defence Community of the 1950s.

Both have a common budget, joint institutions, centralised procurement, a plan for common arms and a centralised legal framework.

Winston Churchill was opposed to UK membership of the 1950s European Defence Community because of its stealthy centralisation of defence decision-making and its threat to UK autonomy. Today’s ministers could learn a lot from his example when facing down exactly the same threat today, in the late 2010s.

The European Defence Community would have made a European defence pillar within NATO which acted as a single unit. It would have been equivalent to one member state of NATO. The US and many European counterparts were in favour of the scheme, also known as the ‘Pleven Plan’, as it was expected to re-mobilise German military power in a controlled and ‘acceptable’ way and by doing so might nurture continental power against the Soviet threat.

Even Churchill was in favour of European Community members proceeding with the plan, just without the UK being involved. Several Churchill quotes are misread or misused in the European context, but in this topic he was unequivocal. As the quote below describes, he made a definitive statement on 11 May 1953, in the middle of his second term as Prime Minister, saying that the UK would be ‘with’ but not ‘of’ the European Defence Community.

The European Defence Community was close to being enacted, but the French military opposed its principle of integration. They knew the plan, despite its French origins, was intolerable. It meant there would no longer be an independent French armed forces or French defence policy. In the 1950s, France was still in the afterglow of having regained its liberty and independence and was unwilling to jeopardise either. The Pleven Plan was blocked in the French parliament and the burgeoning European Defence Community was canned before it had even begun.

Churchill came under heavy pressure from Continental politicians to take the UK into the Pleven Plan.

In May 1953, he spelled out his reasons for keeping the UK out of it:

“We are not members of the European Defence Community, nor do we intend to be merged in a federal European system. We feel we have a special relation to both. This can be expressed by prepositions, by the preposition ‘with’ but not ‘of’ – we are with them, but not of them.”

Winston S Churchill, 11 May 1953.

The method of delivery of the Pleven Plan was also strikingly similar to the modern version.

  • It purported to deliver answers to problems Churchill and the US has described.
  • It appeared suddenly without consultation.
  • It was produced by adherents of European integration and was pushed by allied adherents in other European countries.
  • It was met with bemusement by the UK and US whose response was marked by a lack of awareness. The project was eventually only stopped by French patriots’ misgivings about losing their historic military independence.

The modern 2017 variant of European Defence is more integrative and more offensive than the 19050s Pleven Plan for these two key reasons:

  1. The Pleven Plan was declared as a part of NATO and accountable to the NATO structure. The 2017 version has far less connection to NATO. The EU agreed that its new defence acquis should have “defence decision-making autonomy from NATO”. This was unexpected and shocking for the few British observers keeping track of developments.
  2. The Pleven Plan was more obvious and intelligible. The 2017 version, on the other hand, is relentlessly abstruse. It is cleverly constructed to permit swathes of its influence to go unnoticed – the movement of power to the central functions is far less visible, partly due to the mesmerising array of cross-linking structures, funds and agreements. In essence though, the ‘Made in 2017’ version does the same thing as the 1950s predecessor.

The diagram below describes the similarities between components of the 1950s European Defence Community and the 2010s European Defence Union. This are also listed in the appendix below.

It is important to state at this juncture that the new EU Defence Union is now complete in legislative terms. It this sense, it achieved what the Pleven Plan was never able to do.

The EU now has every bit of legislation it now requires in order to amalgamate the Armed Forces of the remaining member states. However it will not do so straight away. It will do its usual incremental movement. Single budget will do X. PESCO will do Y. EU GS will make it. Galileo and IntCEN will centralise military intelligence functions creating joint dependency on the political structural format they have created. Once all this is achieved, the EU will be ready to trigger Common Defence by Mr Juncker’s target date of 2025. Common Defence is the military equivalent of the Common Currency – defence becomes a full and exclusive ‘competence’ of the EU, rather than a role for member state governments.

It is also salient now to mention that the UK is unfortunately mired in the agreements of the EU Defence Union. In fact, the Civil Servants we pay to represent our interests are desperately scrabbling to keep our country locked in. It is impossible to believe that those who put us in this mess believe in the military independence of the UK or that they believe in the UK as a sovereign nation state at all.

The UK is in every agreement except the one for Permanent Structured Cooperation. This means we’re in about 80% of EU military union.



This list highlights some of the components of the European Defence Community / Pleven Plan (1950s), followed by the equivalent found in the European Defence Union (2017 onwards):

The Board of Commissioners – Under EU Defence (2017 onwards), the roles described here are split between the EU Commission, European Defence Agency (EDA), Political and Security Committee (PSC) and EU Military Stfaf (EUMS), via the Military Planning and Conduct Capability (MPCC).

Consultative Committee and Common Assembly – Roles fulfilled by EU Military Committee (EUMC), European Defence Agency (EDA) and Political and Security Committee of the EU Council (PSC).

Budgetary and Supervisory Powers – Budgetary and supervisory powers enacted by Coordinated Annual Review on Defence (CARD), via European Defence Agency with input from EUMC

Court of Justice – The same, ECJ upholds European Defence Procurement Directive which underpins the European Defence Industrial Development Programme (EDIDP)

Council of Ministers – The same, EU Council.

European Defence Forces / Supreme Commander (in the 1950s it was designed to ‘come under NATO’) – Today’s EU Defence structure doesn’t ‘come under NATO’. In fact, the EU has declared ‘decision-making autonomy’ from NATO. Instead, there are EU-NATO agreements in which the EU takes on selected tasks from NATO.

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