The coronavirus presents an opportunity to strengthen Europe’s capacity to defend itself, but only if deeper political integration is undertaken.

If the debate over European defense wasn’t already fraught, the coronavirus crisis—and the EU’s subsequent contracting economy—has put it at risk of becoming the virus’ next victim.

To cope with the economic consequences of the pandemic, many member states will be forced to reduce their defense spending. Bad memories of the consequences of the financial and debt crisis of 2009/2010 will be awakened: At that time, sixteen European NATO members were forced to reduce their defense spending by more than 10 percent. Even today, the armed forces of EU member states are underfinanced and severely restricted in their operational capabilities. It is therefore not surprising that member states are increasingly calling for EU funds. In their view, Europe will only achieve its goal of strategic autonomy if the defense sector is strengthened through EU programs, above all the European Defense Fund (EDF).

Although there is indeed a need for more defense spending, one cannot ignore the fact that more money only really helps if the member states hand over sovereignty to the EU level. What is desperately needed is a “Hamiltonian moment” for European defense. Just as in 1790 in the US a confederation with a weak central government was gradually transformed into a political federation, in 2020 in Europe the way should finally be paved for deeper political integration in the EU’s Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP).

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