26th Oct 2016

EU powers draft post-Brexit defence plan

  • EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini on Italian aircraft carrier, the Cavour - part of Europe's anti-migrant smuggler force in the Mediterranean (Photo:

The four largest EU powers after Brexit aim to create a new military structure to conduct crisis missions in Africa and to deter Russia.

France, Italy, Germany, and Spain set our their plan in a letter, circulated on Monday (10 October) and seen by EUobserver, from their defence ministers to their counterparts in the other 24 EU states.

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  • French defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian with Germany's Ursula von der Leyen in Bratislava in September (Photo:

They said the EU should have a “permanent” and “autonomous” capability to “plan and conduct” overseas military operations “from low to high intensity levels”.

They said these would take place “especially in Africa” in countries such as Mali, Somalia, the Central African Republic, and Congo.

They said the new capability would “rely on forces offered by member states” and would act while “preserving” their “military chain of command”.

“To be clear: an ‘EU Army’ is not our objective,” they said.

They did not name Russia, but they alluded to Russia’s aggressive behaviour in saying that EU joint defence would complement Nato and that “Euro-Atlantic security is [being] challenged in a way that was not the case for decades”.

“The level of ambition should enable the EU” to “ensure the protection of Europe's population, territory and values with due regard to the deterring effect and collective defence that Nato provides”, they said.

The letter said the EU had to act, in part, due to “the uncertainties brought by the United Kingdom exit from the EU”.

The UK, the EU’s largest military power, voted in June to leave the bloc.

It has threatened to veto EU defence integration so long as it remains a member on grounds that this could undermine Nato.

France, Germany, Italy, and Spain said they intended to move ahead with a core group of willing states under an EU treaty instrument called “permanent structured cooperation”.

They said that they “would prefer to implement them [their proposals] at 28, or, with respect to the Brexit decision, at 27”.

They also invited the UK to take part after it leaves.

“It needs to be open to relevant contributions by all Nato allies who are not EU members, including, in the future, those that the UK wants to offer,” they said.

Latest model

The latest EU military proposal is less far-reaching than previous Italian or Franco-German ones.

Italy had called for a “quantum leap” with the creation of a “joint permanent European Multinational Force”.

France and Germany had called for a new EU military HQ in Brussels to command EU overseas missions and “battlegroups”.

Italy had also called for a new “political vision” and “new political perspectives”, while Monday's letter spoke of “realistic and credible” projects.

An EU source said that by dropping the EU military HQ and by toning down the rhetoric, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain had tried “to send the ‘right’ message” to sceptical EU capitals.

“They don't speak about a new standing HQ, they rather focus on the pragmatic way ahead - how to strengthen existing structures and make them more efficient", he said.

The source said that some elements, such as the EU's Nato-type territorial protection, "still have to be defined", but he said the new proposals "will definitely find wide support among member states".

The UK has been the most outspoken critic of EU defence union, but Finland, which borders Russia, has also called for a “pragmatic” approach.


The joint letter listed several smaller initiatives.

It said EU military structures should include a “European Medical command” and a “European Logistics hub”.

The medical unit could deploy joint assets in the field, while the logistics cell could, for instance, do joint air-lift operations.

The letter said EU states should “consolidate a European Defence Industrial and Technological Base … able to manage key defence technologies”.

It said EU defence ministers should meet every month in the EU Council and that the European Commission should hold “regularly dedicated … meetings dealing with security and defence issues”.

The French, German, Italian and Spanish defence ministers voiced an “important level of convergence” in their views.

EU defence ministers first discussed post-Brexit military plans in Bratislava last month.

They aim to discuss them again in Brussels in November, before passing the baton to EU leaders at a summit in December.

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