French President Emmanuel Macron attends a ceremony in tribute to the French soldiers killed in August 1914 during border battles, at the monument in Morhange, eastern France. Image Credit: AFP

DUBLIN: French President Emmanuel Macron called on Tuesday for “a real European army” — just days before the continent marks the centenary of the end of the First World War.

It’s a call that has raised eyebrows.

“We have to protect ourselves with respect to China, Russia and even the United States of America,” Macron told Europe 1 radio. “When I see President [Donald] Trump announcing that he’s quitting a major disarmament treaty, which was formed after the 1980s euro-missile crisis that hit Europe, who is the main victim? Europe and its security,” he said.

“We will not protect the Europeans unless we decide to have a true European army,” he said in the interview, recorded on Monday night in Verdun, site of bloody and epic battles of the First World War.

But the timing of President Macron’s interview has more to do with the announcement by German Chancellor Angela Merkel that she won’t seek another term, leading Germany in 2021. Her planned retirement offers an opportunity for Macron to raise his profile.

But there’s another reality — a pan-European force would like to breach constitutional barriers in several member-nations. There’s simply no money — nor will — in Brussels now for such a project.

In making the pitch now for a pan-Europe force, Macron is overlooking the fact that most western-European nations are already members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, an alliance formed in 1949 to counter the threat of the combined republics of the Soviet Union and its Communist allies. Nato’s mutual defence article ensures that an attack against any member represents an attack against all, and was only invoked in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 atrocities.

While campaigning for the presidency of France in the spring of 2017, Macron urged greater powers for the EU and promised to bring closer political and economic integration. In German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Macron found a kindred spirit, and the two pledged to find ways of making the political institutions of the EU stronger, agreeing in principle for a minister of finance for the 28-member bloc — 27 after the United Kingdom leaves on March 29.

In France, where some 1.4 million died in the 1914-1918 war, mostly in Flanders along the Franco-Belgian border, the centenary celebrations are emotive.

The four-year conflict that ended on at 11am, on November 11, 1918, saw ten million men in uniform die, while another seven million civilians were killed in the war that was supposed to end all wars. It didn’t — and barely two decades later, at least another 50 million died in the Second World War.