Maltese want an EU army but do not want to be part of it

42% support creation of EU army • 36% against EU army • 50% against Malta participating in an EU army • 55% against Maltese participation in military action to assist other member states attacked by an external power 

The EU does not currently have an army and defence remains exclusively a matter for member states, but recent developments led the EU to take steps to boost defence cooperation and spending
The EU does not currently have an army and defence remains exclusively a matter for member states, but recent developments led the EU to take steps to boost defence cooperation and spending

The Maltese are not averse to the European Union creating its own army, a MaltaToday survey reveals. 

But in a classic example of having the cake and eating it, they are firmly opposed to Malta participating in it. And are even less likely to join military action in solidarity with another EU member state attacked by an external power. 

The survey shows that 42% of Maltese voters favour the creation of an EU army set up to defend member states from possible attack by outsiders, while 36% are opposed. 

But only 38% would like Malta to participate in such a military structure and 55% also oppose Malta joining other member states in providing military assistance to an EU country attacked by an outside power. 

This suggests that participating in military action alongside other member states with whom we already share a common foreign and security policy remains a red line not to be crossed by a majority of Maltese. 

The survey suggests that on European defence issues, the Labour Party is in tune with public sentiment. It can explain why over the past weeks the PL has tried to milk political capital by associating the Nationalist Party with the hawkish stance of the European People’s Party. 

Currently, the EU does not have an army and defence remains exclusively a matter for member states. But in the wake of Russian aggression against Ukraine, Vladimir Putin’s veiled threats against EU member states which once formed part of the Soviet Union or the eastern bloc, and the growing fear of Donald Trump’s return to the White House, the EU is taking steps to boost defence cooperation and spending.  

There is also growing consensus among the main political groups, including the Socialists and Democrats, for the creation of a European Defence Union. 

But among the main political families it is the European People’s Party which comes closest to the idea of a collective EU defence force by proposing the integration of  European forces “in the land, sea, cyber and air” which would also have “rapid deployment capacity.” 

The EPP’s proposal is also tempered by a clause promising respect for the neutrality of member states like Malta. 

PN voters more hawkish 

Although Maltese voters in general tend to shun Maltese participation in a future EU army and oppose participation in military action even if a fellow member state is under attack, the survey indicates a sharp divide between PN and PL voters on these issues. 

While an overall relative majority of 42% favour the creation of an EU army, only 27% of current PL voters agree. On the other hand, support for a common EU army increases to 43% among non-voters and to 57% among current PN voters.   

And while 52% of current PN voters agree that Malta should form part of a common EU army, support for Malta’s participation in such a structure drops to 41% among non-voters and to just 22% among Labour voters. 

But when confronted with the eventuality of an attack by an external power on a fellow EU member state, respondents of both parties are reluctant on Malta’s participation in a military response to such an attack. 

Faced with such an eventuality, PN voters are evenly split between 42% who agree that Malta should offer its military support to the aggrieved member state and 41% who would not like Malta being embroiled in such a conflict. 

Among Labour voters, opposition to Malta’s military involvement in a conflict pitting an external power like Russia against an EU member state rises to a staggering 70%. Just over 50% of non-voters also oppose Malta’s direct military involvement in such a conflict. 

The political divide is also reflected in a regional divide, with opposition to Maltese participation in an EU army being substantially higher in the South Harbour (57%), the Southeast (56%) and Gozo (54%). 

Young and more educated voters keener on common EU defence 

Political allegiance is not the only fault line when it comes to attitudes on EU defence policy. The survey shows that opinions on this topic also differ according to the age, level of education and social class of respondents. 

Support for the creation of an EU army is strongest among the 16 to 35 age cohort (54%) but progressively drops to 40% among 36- to 50-year-olds, to 39% among 51- to 65-year-olds and to 38% among those aged over 65. 

And while only 37% of the secondary educated support the creation of an EU army, support increases to 59% among the tertiary educated. 

Support for a continental army is also higher among those earning a monthly income of between €3,001 and €4,000 (62%) and lower among those earning less than €1,000 (37%). 

The survey also shows that an absolute majority of 16- to 35-year-olds (53%) favour Malta’s participation in a European army in comparison to just 33% of over 65-year-olds. And while only 32% of those with a secondary level of education favour such a step, support for Malta’s participation in a future EU army rises to 60% among those with a tertiary level of education. 

Moreover, while only 29% of those earning less than €1,000 a month agree with this step, support rises to 63% among those earning more than €3,000. 

Support for direct Maltese military participation in the case of an attack on a member state by an external power is low even among the young and the more educated cohorts. 

Among those aged between 16 and 35, opinion is evenly split on whether Malta should engage militarily in the defence of another EU member state - 44% agree while 43% are against. 

In all other age groups opposition to Malta sending its troops to war is high and rises to 61% among those aged over 65. 

The only categories where an absolute majority support Malta’s participation in military action against an invading power are the tertiary educated (51%) and those earning more than €4,000 (75%). 

A breakdown by gender shows that females express the same support for the creation of an EU army as males (42%) but women are slightly more opposed to Malta’s participation in such an army than their male counterparts. 

What the European parties say on defence 

None of the European political families are specifically calling for the creation of a formal EU army but both the Socialists and Democrats and the European People’s Party favour enhanced cooperation in defence matters, with the latter going furthest in this direction. 

The Socialists and Democrats, the political family of the Maltese Labour Party, rather vaguely refer to the need to implement a strong European Common Security and Defence Policy that “complements NATO”.  

They refer to Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine as “a turning point in history” which “proves that greater collaboration and deeper solidarity is needed to face the new international environment”. The socialists also support the development of the European defence industry through “targeted and smarter spending, greater joint procurements of defence products, closer cooperation in intelligence and further collaboration in cybersecurity and the protection of critical infrastructure”. 

The EPP which includes the local PN, on its part boasts of being the political force that stands for a Europe “that can defend itself” and “support those who fight for Europe and its values”. 

Its manifesto also comes closer to the idea of a military Union setting the creation of a European Defence Union as its long-term goal and even proposing a commissioner responsible for defence. This would also involve the integration of European forces “in the land, sea, cyber space and air”.  

“These forces should complement national militaries, aligned with NATO's new force model, with a rapid deployment capacity of a permanent and immediately available force”. 

But the manifesto makes it clear that this should “not prejudice the specific neutral character of the security and defence policy of certain Member States” like Malta. 

The manifesto suggests that these countries will still be expected to pay up for the collective security of the Union through the creation of a European Fund aimed at financing “external military interventions” enabling Member States “that do not wish to mobilise their armed forces for this purpose to make a financial contribution to the collective European defence”. 

Similarly, ALDE- the liberal centrist group in the European Parliament also advocates the creation of a European Defence Union “in close cooperation with European and NATO partners” by 2040, allowing Europe “to defend its territory”, “provide collective security to its citizens”, and “be prepared to deploy military capacity efficiently and quickly.” 

It also states that every European effort in the field of defence “has to be embedded and coherent with NATO”. 

More vaguely in what could be a sign of different views between traditionally pacifist and left wing parties and the more hawkish German Greens, the European Greens (represented in Malta by ADPD) vaguely express support for the development of a European security union “within existing structures” and in full respect of international law, while insisting that military interventions “must only ever be the last resort” and promising continued military assistance to Ukraine. 

The European Left which has no Maltese affiliates is the only party to defy this consensus for increased defence cooperation. While condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine as a crime under international law, it is the only party to call for “a return to the negotiation table, a ceasefire, and a withdrawal of all Russian troops from Ukraine” and to warn against a new arms race in Europe.  The party also calls for enshrining the “rejection of war as an instrument for the resolution of international disputes as one of the fundamental principles of the EU”.  It also insists that the common security and defence policy of the Union “shall not prejudice the specific character of the security and defence policy of certain Member States,” while making a specific reference to the Ireland which like Malta joined the EU on condition that its constitutional neutrality is respected. 

On the other end of the spectrum, the conservative right-wing ECR’s co-chairman Nicola Procaccini from Meloni’s Brothers of Italy has also recently spoken in favour of the creation of a European army to complement NATO. The even more right-wing Identity and Democracy group, which includes the French National Rally, the Italian Lega Nord and the Alternative for Germany is traditionally more ambivalent on foreign policy issues and its politicians are viewed with suspicion in view of past ties with the Putin regime. 

The party had also invited Europe’s most lukewarm supporter of Ukraine; Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party to join the group. But the latter who has expressed a preference for joining the ECR group, is still keeping his options open.