As you probably know, Europe has no defence forces, stricto sensu, and of course even less of a navy. Of course, the European Union website will tell you otherwise, and I am aware of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CSFP). But such a policy is very deceptive in its name as well as its definition. First, it is not really as common as it says it is, and, second, it is more an intention of a policy than a real policy by itself. Let me explain.
The CFSP, or PESC in the French EU jargon, is primarily a voluntary coordination effort by member states who are not militarily neutral. It is also a prevention system and an anti-terrorism information exchange forum. But it is not a common army, and though multinational units do exist, they can not be engaged on an order from Brussels, even if it was backed by the EU Parliament. In other words, it is a nice beginning but not a real policy. There is also a generally agreed guideline on military purchase contracts, but I dare say that it does not prevent or discourage EU countries to buy military equipment without coordination with their neighbours nor does it prevent them from buying equipment outside of the Union, even if the price tag is higher.
The result we all know. While the EU has some powers in terms of economic and monetary policies, and while it certainly has a strong common environmental policy, it is looked upon with derision by other major powers. And with good reasons. There is no "big stick" to paraphrase Roosevelt, to back up the European soft words. OK, I'll give you one or two successful common missions in the Balkans and a half success in solving the Russo-Georgian war. But let's face it, the Eurocorps is a sad joke (no offence intended to its brave members, but I am sure they are as disappointed as myself about their forces), there is no EU navy or Air Force and countries like the Netherlands, Poland or the UK have absolutely no European solidarity when it comes to military spendings. They simply buy what the USA tell them to, regardless of the price or the actual need for such equipment.
Recently, I have to admit, some light seemed to show at the end of the dark tunnel of the CFSP. France led initiatives seem to be pushing in a better direction. First, under Jacques Chirac presidency, France and the UK decided to develop a new generation of aircraft carrier together. This was a major decision for both countries and the result was a common design platform for modular ships (three to be exact). Unfortunately, while the UK kept their end of the bargain and ordered their two units to host their future JSF aircrafts, France is still mulling over its decision to buy a replacement for the already shelved Clemenceau. Though it is for budget reasons, the decision of delaying the decision might in the end cost a lot more to France. This is one of the miracles of the National Accountancy system that France uses for its budget. It is a system which, unlike normal accountancy principles, counts only the current year for expenses and revenues, ignoring future expenses for the next year. It means that, technically, a measure can be taken which actually will cost more to the tax payer, but, in the short term, will weight less on the yearly budget. It's completely stupid, but, let's face it, French civil servants and politicians are not the brightest lot.
Anyway, to come back to the topic, there is one area where France is pushing in the right direction, and it is the navy. Just yesterday, France hosted an initiative aimed at gathering an EU rapid reaction force of naval units. France has allegedly the biggest navy of the EU (at least until the UK carriers are build) and would probably contribute the most to it, hence the location of the meeting. But interestingly enough, the real reason behind such an interest is the usual one: EU countries have a common enemy. It is not Russia, not Iran, not China or Syria. The common enemy disrupting vital marine supply lines is a bunch of African pirates, operating from the war torn area of Eyl, between Puntland and Somalia proper.
These strange mix of Punt mafia and Somali Islamists is motivated by greed and power and raids everything moving between the Somali barren coast and the Seychelles islands. They are disrupting a major oil and gas tanker route, as well as a container route from Asia to Europe and from the Middle-East to Europe (not counting several secondary routes to Africa). So French navy units and other EU ships have began policing the area, first as secondary operation zone for the NATO forces protecting the entrance of the Persian Gulf, and now as an operation by itself (FR). The operation had yesterday its first success, with the arrest of a dozen pirates on a boutre loaded with RPG launchers and assault riffles. They were duly delivered to Puntland coast guards who are also beginning to show their own teeth lately. We will see where all this leads. But I hope that we will see more of these operations in the future.
I also hope that European countries will eventually begin to purchase weapons, ships and vehicles together, even if I know that it is not for tomorrow...