The Biggest Standing Armies Of The European Union

Italy has approximately 248,000 army personnel. Editorial credit: Ioan Florin Cnejevici /
Italy has approximately 248,000 army personnel. Editorial credit: Ioan Florin Cnejevici /

According to Global Firepower Index, Italy has the largest standing military force in the European Union. The standing army refers to the number of active military personnel, who are commonly referred to as ‘ready-to-fight’ elements. The active military personnel does not include civilian employees or reservists. The three biggest standing armies in EU come from Italy, France, and Germany.

Countries with the Largest Standing Military Forces in the EU


Italy has the biggest standing military force in the European Union with approximately 248,000 army personnel. With a population of 62 million people, Italy also has the highest available manpower of 28 million people. This is a crucial factor in the Global Firepower Index ranking. With a total military personnel of 267 thousand, only 20 thousand are reserve forces.


France is the second largest country in terms of active military personnel with 204,000 people. It remains one of the most capable militaries in Europe and the world. The force of the military is further enhanced by indigenous French ballistic missiles submarines and an independent nuclear deterrent. The French also have over 183,000 reserve personnel.


Germany has 180,000 active military personnel which is the third highest number in the European Union. Germany has reduced its focus on military forces especially after the two world wars, although it has maintained formidable forces over the last few years. Germany has a powerful industrial base that builds some of the most powerful weapons and tanks, such as the Leopard 2. Today, Germany has a reserve personnel of 30,000 individuals.


Also known as the Hellenic Armed Forces, the Greeks have 162,000 active military personnel. With a defense budget of $6.5 billion, it is the fourth biggest standing army in the European Union. Greece has the highest military spending in the EU relative to its GDP. It is also the largest importer of conventional weapons in EU.

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom military is the fifth largest in Europe with 151,000 active military personnel. The armed forces consist of the Royal Navy, the British army, and the Royal Air Force. The total military personnel numbers at 232,000 with a reserve of 81,500 personnel. The British Armed forces focus on enforcement of domestic and foreign national security and participation in coalition operations in NATO.


The army of Spain is one of the most organized and formidable military force in the world. It consists of the Navy, the Army, and Airforce. The King of Spain is the Commander-in-chief of the armed forces. Spain has 124,000-strong standing military force and over 50,000 reserve personnel. The armed forces of Spain are active in various operations including NATO, Eurocorps, the United Nations, and EU battlegrounds.


The Polish armed forces are charged with the national security of Poland. Recently, the defense ministry of Poland has unveiled a plan to increase military spending to $42 billion over the next 15 years. This will ensure Poland is able to counter aggression from Russia by modernizing its army. Currently, Poland has 110,000 active military personnel.


Romanian Armed Forces consist of the Land Forces, Naval forces, and the Airforce. The president of Romania is the supreme commander of the Romanian Armed Forces. All military operations are directed by the Minister of National Defense. Of the 177,500 military and civilian personnel, 73,000 are active troops. The total military spending constitutes of the country’s GDP. This is approximately $4.3 billion dollars.


The Dutch Army is very similar in structure to the U.S and British army. The Government of the Netherlands has the supreme command of the army. This is according to the constitution which shifted the supreme command from the King of Netherlands to the government. The Dutch military is actively involved in international peacekeeping and stability. Currently, there are 43,000 active military personnel.


The Portuguese Armed Forces are under the supreme command of the President. The Armed Forces of Portugal is mandated with providing national security as well as maintaining international peace. The Portuguese army operates in NATO, United Nations, and the European Union. The army is also actively involved in non-military public service and external operations since Portugal does not have significant national security threats. The Portuguese army has 35,000 active military personnel.

European Defense Union

Recently, the defense secretaries from 23-member states of the EU agreed to form a defense force. Out of the 28-member states, 5 countries withdrew. These countries include United Kingdom, Portugal, Malta, Ireland, and Denmark. The formation of a European Defense Union has been a discussion held for a long time, under the Permanent Structured Cooperation, commonly known as PESCO.

The Biggest Standing Armies of the European Union

RankCountryNumber of active military personnel, 2017 (in 1,000)
5United Kingdom151

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