Monday

5th Dec 2016

Italy lays out 'vision' of EU army

  • Eurocorps soldiers. Italy called for "fiscal" incentives for the proto-EU force (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

Italy has laid out plans for the creation of a “European force” that goes beyond Franco-German proposals on defence integration.

It said in an informal paper, seen by EUobserver, ahead of a defence ministers’ meeting in Bratislava on Tuesday (27 September) that the EU should create a “powerful and usable European Force that can also be employed in support to Nato or UN operations”.

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  • Italy might need to invest money in bailing out its banks rather than grand EU projects (Photo: Michelle Lee)

Giving its full title, it said that the “joint permanent European Multinational Force (EMF)” should be created by “available member states willing to share forces, command and control, manoeuvre and enabling capabilities”.

It added that the force should be “permanently offered” to a new EU military HQ.

It also envisaged even deeper military integration in the future, saying that “the EMF will represent the initial nucleus of a future European integrated force”.

The talk of defence cooperation comes as EU leaders try to reassert the European project in the wake of Brexit.

It also comes amid growing security threats from Russia, from Middle East and north African conflicts, and from terrorist groups.

Italy did not mention Brexit, but it said that its project “would have a strong political impact, as it would express our readiness to relaunch European integration”.

It said that a “quantum leap” in EU military cooperation was needed to “avoid irrelevance”.

It also said “we face a threat both from inside and outside our societies, generating fear and uncertainty … The EU must come up with effective answers to our citizens’ growing concerns, starting with security and defence.”

Italy recognised that some member states do not want to create an EU army.

It said that its ideas would require “political vision”, a “new and more ambitious [EU] political agenda”, and “new political perspectives”.

Italian ambition

France and Germany, earlier this month, also circulated an informal paper on EU defence.

They did not call for an EU force, noting that “political responsibility for defence lies in the first place with member states”.

Like Italy, they also called for an EU military HQ, with its own medical and logistical assets, such as air-lift equipment, but they said that the HQ should command EU overseas crisis missions, not a “permanent” standing force.

Italy, France, and Germany concurred in most other areas, however.

Echoing German defence minister Ursula von der Leyen, who spoke, in Vilnius earlier this month, of a “Schengen of defence”, Italy spoke of a “Union for the European Defence, pursuing a model resembling the Schengen Agreement”.

The Schengen accord, which governs the EU’s free-travel zone, was first signed by just five out of the then 10 EU member states in 1985, but later expanded to take in 22 out of 28.

Italy said EU battlegroups should be more readily deployable and EU-funded.

The ad-hoc, battalion-sized forces, made up of select EU states’ soldiers, have never seen action, in part, because capitals did not want to foot the bill.

Like France and Germany, Italy expressed interest in overseas crisis missions, in what it called “capacity to project stability in areas and regions critical to our security”, rather than in the creation of a Russia deterrent.

It said member states should invest in “ensuring a robust [military] industrial and technological base” in Europe.

It said they should do more joint procurement and EU-funded R&D and should create “a common European military education system”.

But with Rome struggling to keep its national debt within EU rules, it called for “fiscal and financial incentives” for military projects, such as “VAT exemption, support of the Investment European Bank … and facilitated loans”.

Bratislava

EU defence ministers will discuss the ideas in Bratislava, together with a Finnish paper, also seen by EUobserver, that took more notice of Russia.

Belgium, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, and Sweden, have broadly endorsed the Franco-German proposals, EU sources said.

France and Germany want to move quickly, with some ideas to be implemented in 2017 or 2018.

The UK, which is likely to remain an EU member until at least 2019, and which has long-opposed EU defence integration,has threatened to veto the plans so long as it still held its seat in the EU Council.

Speaking in an interview with the Reuters news agency, published on Monday, Germany’s Von der Leyen said she had telephoned her British counterpart, Michael Fallon, after he issued the threat.

She said she told him that Berlin expected the UK “will not hinder important European Union reforms”.

"I told him the initiative is designed for a strong Europe, and that this Europe also wants to have good relations with Britain in the future, especially in the area of defence”, she said.

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