I am interested in the restrictions that apply to military persons that are also activate in politics, within the European Union.

Searching on this matter provides lots of results for US, but I could not find relevant information for EU countries.

E.g.: this article shows us "can do"s and "cannot do"s for US military personnel based on their active status. Random examples:

Can - Register, vote, and express a personal opinion on political candidates and issues, but not as a representative of the Armed Forces. Can - Join a political club and attend its meetings when not in uniform.

Cannot - Participate in partisan political fundraising activities, rallies, conventions (including making speeches in the course thereof), management of campaigns, or debates, either on one’s own behalf or on that of another, without respect to uniform or inference or appearance of official sponsorship, approval, or endorsement. Participation includes more than mere attendance as a spectator.

Cannot - Use official authority or influence to interfere with an election, affect the course or outcome of an election, solicit votes for a particular candidate or issue, or require or solicit political contributions from others.

  • 3
    This would be a matter of military law/military dicipline. And the laws could well be differerent in each of the EU 28. If you were to focus on (say) the UK, then I think this question could be answered.
    – James K
    Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 16:46
  • 1
    @JamesK Not just military law, but also election law (It's the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975 which says that serving members of the armed forces, police officers, civil servants etc can't stand for Parliament in the UK)
    – origimbo
    Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 17:00

2 Answers 2


The military (still) are a competency of EU member states, so there are as many responses as there are EU members, in many different languages, hence why you haven't found anything - except perhaps for the UK, Ireland, and Malta.

I can only speak for France and even then it's with vague familiarity. Basically we've this concept of "Devoir de Réserve" (in French) that applies to all civil servants and which is euphemism for duty to keep your mouth shut in public.

Since late last week there incidentally was an incident over this in France (a leak in reality) that led to the "Chef d'Etat-Major" (the military in charge of the entire army) to resign - a first in the French 5th Republic.

Loosely put, though, the expectations from the military are similar in France as they are in the US: keep a low profile and stay out of politics. Perhaps they're more stringent, if anything, because it would be unthinkable here to have a military be active in politics even when they're not in uniform until they retire.

I'm honestly not privy to the rest of Europe enough to give a complete picture for the remaining EU members. But I wouldn't be surprised if similar restrictions apply.

FWIW, the only European countries I can think of where the military were very active in politics in recent years are Turkey and Russia, neither of which are in the EU, and both of which had failed coups. (You might add a few ex-Yugoslavia countries if you count the wars over there, Belarus in that it's the last remaining dictatorship, Ukraine since the Crimean crisis, plus Caucasia-related crisis involving Russia and/or Georgia. But none of these are in the EU either.)


In the UK the actions of soldiers are governed by the "Queen's Regulations". The rules are rather different for regular and reservist units.

In summary: full-time members of the armed forces can join political parties or meetings, but not actively campaign for them. For example, they can attend a political meeting (out of uniform) but not a demonstration or a march.

Members of the armed forces cannot stand for election, nor be part of a local authority. However they are actively encouraged to vote.

Members of the armed forces can join a trade union, but most are not allowed to take industrial action. Service bands cannot play at political or trades union meetings, and equipment owned by the military cannot be used by political groups.

There is nothing to prevent any legal political activity by one who has retired from the Army, and indeed Paddy Ashdown, the former leader of the Lib Dems, is ex-military. However, there is little tradition of Military officers becoming political figures. (Only two UK Prime Ministers have had military careers: Wellington and Churchill).

These regulations cover the UK (with some variation in Ireland) Other countries will have their own rules.

Reservists are much freer to engage in political activities, just as any citizen, except that Army property (land, equipment, army bands, service journals etc) is not to be used for political purpose.

In all cases, the Army is not to be brought into disrepute.

Retired Soldiers are not bound by any of the above regulations.

  • Depending what you mean by "military career", several PMs served in the armed forces in 1914-18 or 1939-45: eg. James Callaghan, Edward Heath, Harold Macmillan. A handful of current members of Parliament are ex-military, eg. Dan Jarvis, Iain Duncan Smith. Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 9:11
  • That's true, but Churchill had attended Sandhurst, and had a military career outside of the national emergencies. Wellington was Field Marshall. I doubt Heath (PPE at Balliol and Law at Grays Inn) would have joined the army had war not been declared. Heath did his duty, then got out the army as soon as the war ended. As you note, it's relatively rare for the current membership to be ex-military.
    – James K
    Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 11:37
  • @RoyalCanadianBandit And if I remember rightly, Clement Attlee was generally known as 'Major Attlee' between the wars.
    – owjburnham
    Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 22:29

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