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4th Dec 2021

EU activates mutual defence clause for France

  • French military in Sahel. "France cannot do everything on its own," the defence minister has said. (Photo: French ministry of defense)

EU member states agreed Tuesday (17 November) to grant military assistance to France following Friday's terror attacks in Paris.

For the first time in EU history, defence ministers unanimously decided to activate the "mutual defence clause" of the EU treaty.

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"France is requesting help and assistance from Europe. And today all Europe, united, answers yes," EU diplomacy chief Federica Mogherini said at a press conference. "The European Union expressed its strongest, full support and readiness to provide all the aid and assistance asked for and needed."

French president Francois Hollande had invoked article 42.7 of the EU treaty in an address to the parliament Monday.

 "If a member state is the victim of armed aggression on its territory," the article states, "the other member states shall have towards it an obligation of aid and assistance by all the means in their power."

"It is a very important political act," French defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told the press. "It will enable us to have the necessary bilateral discussions and the essential coordination to let us translate those commitments into action."

While EU law also includes a solidarity cause in the event of a terrorist attack, to "protect democratic institutions and the civilian populace", France chose to ask for help for its external military operations.

France expects "capabilities cooperation on French interventions in Syria and Iraq, or relief or support in other operations," Le Drian said.

In addition to launching strikes against the Islamic State group and protecting its own territory, France has sent troops to the Sahel region, the Central African Republic, Lebanon, and to several minor theatres. 

Around 7,000 troops are deployed overseas.

"France cannot do everything on its own any longer," Le Drian said.

Bilateral talks have begun between France and other member states to clarify French needs and other countries' capabilities.

Although all member states agreed to activate the mutual defence clause, some are more wary of sending troops to external theatres.

'A political act'

"All member states will be able to contribute in the spirit of their own defence policies and foreign policies," said Federica Mogherini, who seemed to downplay the operational implications of the decision. "It is, first of all, a political act, a political message."

The EU diplomacy chief also stressed that "Europe's response [to the attacks] is not a solitary one. It falls within a common, regional, global strategy with our Arab friends and with the rest of the international community".

On Monday, Hollande called for a "large and single coalition" against the Islamic State in Syria.

Signaling a policy shift towards Russia, he added that he would soon meet Russian president Vladimir Putin. Until now, France had opposed the anti-terror coalition proposed by Putin.

On Tuesday the Russian air force bombed the IS stronghold of Raqqa,where the French had already struck twice on Sunday and Monday evening, as well as in Alep and Idlib. 



Putin also admitted on Tuesday that the Russian aircraft that crashed in Sinai on 31 October, killing 234 people, was downed by terrorists. He had previously ruled out any terror act.

His admission may indicate that he is ready to cooperate against IS with France, Britain, the US, and the EU member states ready to join operations in Syria.

France seeks answers to security challenge

Police raids in France and strikes in Syria after the deadly Paris attacks show French authorities have to find internal and external strategies against terrorism.

Weak start for EU mutual defence clause

EU military assistance was granted to France after the November attacks in Paris. But its effects have been limited and its implementation is lacking in clarity.

Anti-terror raid in Paris region

Eight suspected terrorists are reported dead or arrested. The mastermind of Friday's Paris attacks was targeted.

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