No support for EU army in ministers' talks
There will be no joint EU force and no EU military HQ for a long time to come, defence ministers’ talks in Bratislava on Tuesday (27 September) indicated.
The informal meeting came after Italy had proposed the creation of a "permanent" EU force as a political response to Brexit and to popular fears that Europe was becoming more vulnerable .
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France and Germany had also proposed an EU command centre for overseas crisis missions and EU funding for “battlegroups” - temporary, battalion-sized forces created by small groups of member states.
Coming out of the talks, EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini said there was “common ground” on the principle of closer defence cooperation.
But she mentioned smaller initiatives, such as joint investments in Europe’s arms industry, a joint R&D budget, and better planning of overseas missions, as examples of the kind of projects that had won support.
Finland, which had, prior to the meeting, called for a “pragmatic” approach to EU defence, also offered to host an EU cyber-defence academy.
“This is not about a European army, this is about stronger defence cooperation”, Mogherini told press in Slovakia.
Referring to British threats to veto projects that might compete with the Nato defence alliance, she added: “Let me tell you very clearly: Today, in my three hours’ discussion with ministers, I never once heard the word ‘veto’, I never once heard the word ‘blocking’, and I never once heard the word ‘army’.”
“This was not an ideological or abstract debate, it was about what we can do together … to respond to our citizens, who demand that we invest in their security”, she said.
The British defence chief, Michael Fallon, earlier in the day repeated the UK’s threat.
"We agree Europe needs to step up to the challenges of terrorism and of migration, but we are going to continue to oppose any idea of an EU army or an EU army headquarters which would simply undermine Nato”, he said.
The German minister, Ursula Von der Leyen, on Tuesday said Berlin and Paris believed the EU would “make significant progress before the end of the year” on certain projects, but also mentioned joint spending instead of the military HQ idea.
“It’s not about a European army”, she also said.
“It's about bundling the various strengths of European countries to be ready to act together quickly .
If you look at how much personnel and money is available for defence in the 28 states in Europe but how little this is coordinated, there's significant space for improvement”.
An EU source who attended the Bratislava event told EUobserver that Italy’s EU force idea was not discussed, but that “everybody mentioned the HQ issue”.
The source said that some states, including Poland, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the UK spoke out against the idea.
He said that about 10 others, including the Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary, Portugal, and Spain, were “open to discussions” on the HQ, but not in the short term.
He also said that France and Germany were “way ahead of the others” in their initial proposals.
The source added that even if the EU decided to fund battlegroups they would be unlikely to see action because member states “lacked the political will to go into theatre”.
“All the discussions start with talk of greater efficiency, but quickly become ideological”, he said.