Despite Szijjártó's claims, EU neither wants to nor is able to introduce compulsory European conscription

May 30. 2024. – 10:18 AM


Despite Szijjártó's claims, EU neither wants to nor is able to introduce compulsory European conscription
Péter Szijjártó in Brussels on 27 May 2024 – Photo: Péter Szijjártó's Facebook page


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In recent days, Hungarian government politicians have successively spoken up against the possibility of a compulsory EU conscription. At last week's government briefing, Minister of the Prime Minister's Office Gergely Gulyás said that the statement made by Manfred Weber, leader of the European People's Party, calling for such a measure "represents an entirely new situation".

Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó followed this up on Monday after meeting with his EU counterparts in Brussels by saying that "the latest crazy idea that's been floated is the introduction of a mandatory European conscription". This part of his post-meeting press conference was later made into a separate Facebook post, complete with dramatic music.

According to him, it is clear what the issue is: Ukrainian troops are dwindling, "and now they want to conscript European people into the war". "One can practically hear it clearly that at first, soldiers will have to be sent from places which are geographically close (to Ukraine -TN). All this means that, with the compulsory European conscription, they want to send young people from Central Europe, including young Hungarians, to the war," and that they will be the first to go. But the government does not want this, because "we have nothing to do with this war".

At his Monday press conference the Foreign Minister attributed the idea to "European politicians". The next day in Nagykőrös, he narrowed it down: "It is obviously no coincidence that European politicians, German politicians, are now calling for the introduction of a Europe-wide mandatory conscription, not only for men but also for women," he said. In his opinion, "even the thought of a mandatory European conscription should be rejected". By Wednesday, when he spoke on the same subject in Minsk he simply referred to "statements".

However, it seems that the idea itself didn't come from Weber or the Council of EU ministers, but first appeared in the title of an article in the pro government daily, Magyar Nemzet, which does not even mention the idea of a compulsory European conscription. Besides, the EU has no powers to introduce such a thing in the first place.

Magyar Nemzet misunderstood it, Weber clearly denied it

Weber's statement was thoroughly investigated by Lakmusz. The site traced things back to a Magyar Nemzet article from 10 May, which reviews a debate. The strangest thing is that even the Hungarian article does not mention conscription at EU level, but only mentions that Weber would reintroduce it, whereas the title says the German politician wants "compulsory military service throughout the EU". As Lakmusz points out, in the original text, which was translated and then reviewed, there is a specific reference where conscription is mentioned, and this in itself makes it clear that Weber was only talking about Germany. In other words, it would have taken a single click when reviewing the text for this to become clear.

In addition, Lakmusz found a recording of the debate. There's a question in it, part of which is about a European army (europäische Armee), but in his answer Weber goes on to talk about the army (Bundeswehr) of the Federal Republic of Germany (Bundesrepublik) before getting another question about conscription. This is the answer which was included in the German summary article and which Magyar Nemzet reviewed.

As in several member states, there are also some in Germany who would consider bringing back compulsory military service (which was suspended in 2011). According to a recent edition of Arte Weekly, also published on Telex, Chancellor Olaf Scholz would not reinstate it in full, and Defence Minister Boris Pistorius, also a Social Democrat, spoke about Germany's need for some form of conscription during his visit to Washington. But on Monday, Spiegel reported that the minister's plans, presented behind closed doors that day, were already largely based on a voluntary service. According to the paper's sources, the word "conscription" was not even mentioned in the document, but various incentives, such as free driving licenses, would be used instead to recruit young people instead.

The Arte video also explains that the center-right CDU (Weber is a member of its Bavarian sister party, the CSU) would gradually reintroduce compulsory military service. The Bavarian politician is quoted in Magyar Nemzet as saying that the introduction of compulsory military service is an interim step and that he supports the introduction of a general compulsory year of service, but the unknown author of the article did not provide any context for this statement.

To be on the safe side, Lakmusz also checked with Weber's office in the European Parliament and the EPP, and Udo Zolleis, head of the EPP's strategy division, confirmed:

“Manfred Weber has never supported EU-wide compulsory military service. Consequently, he has never brought up the idea, either publicly or at internal forums.”

Josep Borell had a good laugh at what Szijjártó said

Okay, but then how could V4NA have written days earlier that "Brussels would introduce mandatory European conscription"? According to the website of the company linked to Árpád Habony, "sources in Brussels" say that "Manfred Weber's aim is that the new EP, which will be set up after the European elections, be among the first to discuss a compulsory EU-wide conscription".

Part of the problem with this information is that the EP cannot initiate the introduction of any legislation on its own, only the European Commission can do so. But the problem with the article is partly the same as with the whole story:

the EU has no right to introduce compulsory conscription. Security and defense policy are predominantly a national competence.

This could only be changed by altering the EU's founding treaties, which is a lengthy process that can be vetoed by any one government. While the EU does have a common security and defense policy, decisions about it are made by the member states unanimously – without the EP. At most, it could be a resolution without legal consequences, but Weber's rebuttal indicates that the politician did not talk about any such thing, so it is unclear where V4NA got its information from.

Following the Foreign Ministers' meeting on Monday, Népszava contacted the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy about the Hungarian Foreign Minister's statements. Josep Borrell laughed and said that "we are far from having such powers", and added that the decision on compulsory conscription is up to the member states. This is something the EU cannot think about and "is not thinking about".

If then Weber does not want a compulsory European conscription and Borrell did not know about it after the meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers, and if it is not even possible, then what 'European politicians, German politicians' was Szijjártó talking about in Nagykőrös? We sent questions to the Foreign Ministry about this, and will update this article as soon as we receive a reply.

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