In an unanticipated development, Germany has proposed that the European Union (EU) adopt a shared EU aircraft carrier. Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the successor of Angela Merkel in the leadership of the governing Christian Democratic Union and the next chancellor of Germany, said that, concerning European defense, “The next step could be to start on the symbolic project of building a common European aircraft carrier.” She argued that this is a logical step following the Future Combat Air System (FCAS), a shared EU project aimed at producing a common European fighter (think of it as the EU’s F-35 program).
Chancellor Merkel supported the proposition by stating, “It’s right and good that we have such equipment on the European side, and I’m happy to work on it.”
Their statements came in the wake of French President Emmanuel Macron’s repeated urgings for a more united EU in defense and foreign policy issues.
The leading German politicians didn’t specify if their proposal refers to a single aircraft carrier to be operated jointly by European nations or a new class of aircraft carrier to be adopted for use by different EU navies (similar to how the U.S. Navy has different classes of aircraft carriers such as the Ford class or the Nimitz class).
A common European aircraft carrier would give some concrete power to the EU’s global aspirations. But that would necessitate unity of command and a clear decision-making process for defense issues. Although the EU has made great strides in establishing a more unified foreign policy, it still has some distance to go.
Wolfgang Ischinger, an influential German diplomat who has served as Germany’s ambassador to the U.S., said, “An aircraft carrier is an instrument of geopolitical/military power projection. A precondition for the employment would be a common strategy and decision-making process. Germany is light years away from that!”
The actions of some European nations and defense companies affirm Ischinger’s perspective. The three major European arms exports nations—the United Kingdom, France, and Germany—are increasingly at odds with one another when it comes to whom they sell weapons. For example, Germany has issued an arms embargo on Saudi Arabia over the Gulf country’s involvement in the Yemeni Civil War, which has been going on for four years and is an utter humanitarian disaster, with millions of people on the brink of starvation. Britain, on the other hand, continues to supply arms to the Saudis.
For some time now, the French Ministry of Defense has been looking to replace its aging aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle. In October, the French military began a $45 million study for the purpose of determining the options for the French Navy’s new aircraft carrier. The study, which is set to last almost two years, must produce several options for French policymakers to make a decision by 2025. The new aircraft carrier is scheduled to remain operational until at least 2080. Given this, it’s unlikely France would become a willing contributor to any initiative pertaining to the adoption of a common EU aircraft carrier.
Despite Kramp-Karrenbauer’s statement, a shared EU aircraft carrier looks like a fantasy.