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19th Jan 2020

France calls for EU 'army' to contain Russia

  • Angela Merkel had in the past softened French rhetoric on EU defence (Photo: bundeskanzlerin.de)

The EU needs a "real European army" to defend itself against Russia, the French president has said.

It also needs to fight populists such as Hungary's Viktor Orban and Italy's Matteo Salvini by becoming less "ultra-liberal", he added.

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  • Concern in EU outside France that duplicating Nato structures would not help (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

"We will not protect Europeans unless we decide to have a true European army," Emmanuel Macron told the France 1 radio station in an interview in Verdun, a WWI memorial site, in France on Tuesday (6 November).

"Faced with a Russia which is at our borders and has shown that it can be a threat ... we need a Europe which defends itself better alone, without just depending on the United States, in a more sovereign manner," he said.

"We have been hit by intrusion attempts in cyber-space and multiple interventions in our democracies," he added, referring to Russian election-meddling in the EU.

Europe also had to "protect itself" against the rise of China and against US policies that harmed European security, he said.

"When I see [US] president [Donald] Trump announcing that he's quitting a major disarmament treaty which was formed after the 1980s euro-missile crisis that hit Europe, who is the main victim? Europe and its security," he said, referring to Trump's recent decision to quit the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty.

Change in tone

Macron's words marked a swerve from previous EU rhetoric on defence integration.

Macron had earlier spoken of an EU army as the end goal of ongoing projects on joint defence procurement, rapid reaction forces, and EU command centres.

But German chancellor Angela Merkel and the EU institutions had lately toned down that talk amid concern on Nato duplication and on a eurosceptic backlash.

"European defence cooperation is not about creating an EU army," EU foreign relations chief Federica Mogherini said in February - in one of many similar such remarks.

Macron's mention of Russia as the "EU army's" main focus was also new, after Germany and the EU had spoken of creating "battlegroups" designed to be sent to Africa and the Middle East.

The French leader noted that the past 70 years of "peace and prosperity" in Europe was a "golden moment".

But he said the situation was "precarious" due to the "rise of nationalism" inside Europe, as well as due to its external threats.

Europe was being "fractured by the rise of nationalism", he said.

"If courage is lacking in the defence of fundamental principles, international order becomes fragile and this can lead, as we have already seen twice, to global war," Macron said.

He spoke after having designated himself, earlier this year, as the main opponent of a new nationalist-populist axis led by Salvini and Orban.

He also spoke after French far right leader Marie Le Pen did well in recent polls.

"It's not because these people [Salvini and Orban] were elected that we don't have the right to combat their ideas," Macron said on Tuesday.

"I hope it [Le Pen's party] will not win and that other political forces, who are in the Republican field, will win," he added, referring to next year's European Parliament elections and to the centre-right opposition party in France - Les Republicans.

Anger

Macron, who is often stereotyped as an elitist former banker by his opponents, added that far-right forces were feeding off the "anger" of voters who were not doing well economically .

"We must not despise the people who elected them [Orban and Salvini] - I have never adopted this posture," he said.

"We must listen to the fear that these [EP] elections express, and the anger against a Europe that has undoubtedly become too ultra-liberal ... that no longer allows even the middle classes to live well," he said.

EU takes step toward joint army

The vast majority of EU states have agreed to create the nucleus of a joint army in reaction to Brexit, Trump, and Russia.

Fear of nationalist surge marks European memorials

French and German leaders denounced nationalism at WWI memorials attended by the nationalist heads of Russia, Turkey, and the US. Similar divisions were also on display in Poland.

Opinion

Macron's 'European army': why is everyone talking about it?

Few people commented on one key point in Macron's statement: he did not justify the idea of a European army by the need to intervene in Africa, which would have been France's traditional approach. Instead, he invoked the Russian threat,

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