A few days ago, Daniel Hannan was getting worked up – not about the disgusting carry-ons in the EU parliament, but at the deployment of the "EU army" to Chad.
The proximate cause of his concern was an announcement that the much delayed EU peace-keeping force was finally to make its way to that troubled country, having finally found enough helicopters and equipment to keep it going.
Under a heading, "The EU deploys its army," Hannan wrote that the soldiers will answer, "not to any national capital nor combination of national capitals, but to the EU's politico-military structures in Brussels". He then asked: "If 3,500 uniformed soldiers at the command of EU institutions isn't a European army, what is it?"
However, whether it is an EU formation is one thing, but there is another measure of an army. The term is usually taken to mean a force which has the capability to fight and, in this respect, Hannan's worries are somewhat over-stated – the EU Army is not capable of fighting.
Despite the concerns of nascent EU power, we now learn that the deployment has been delayed, the reason being that there has been "heavy fighting" between government troops and Sudanese-backed rebels, who have been marching towards the capital in a bid to topple president Idriss Déby.
The mission's Irish commander, Patrick Nash, says the risk of instability was well-known and now, with Irish and Austrian troops due to arrive, this has "fuelled fears" that the EU could get more than it bargained for. Says John Kotsopoulos of the European Policy Centre, "The EU will have to tread extremely carefully so as not to get caught up" [in the fighting].
The problem is that the French have been supporting the government against rebel incursions. So the EU mission, while supposed to be neutral, could ultimately be seen as benefiting the government in Chad by stabilising the situation.
As result, the rebels have stated that if the EU forces stand in their way then they will be under threat. In fact, they bear the distinction of the first ever force to declare war against the EU. Thus, it seems, the potential for casualties is making the EU states think again about sending their men and women to Chad.
So, the EU has an "army" that cannot fight and will not be deployed anywhere dangerous in case it suffers casualties. On that basis, one could be forgiven for thinking that there is very little to be concerned about. The words "paper tiger" come to mind. We know the Europeans talk about "soft power", but this is ridiculous. "Gone soft power", might be more accurate.