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5th Mar 2024

French EU presidency to push for defence integration

France will next year push for a Europe of defence, proposing Brussels-based EU planning staff, exchanges between professional soldiers and a harmonization of military education – ideas which are likely to raise concern in the UK.

In an interview with German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, French defence minister Hervé Morin said that Paris will put defence high on the agenda when it takes over the rotating presidency of the EU in the second half of 2008.

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Mr Morin described European defence as an "absolute priority" which is at least as important for European integration as the EU's common currency, the euro.

"With the common currency, we have created a strong symbol for Europe. But nothing can better express the European community of fate than common defence, a common sense of Europe's threats and security interests," he said.

"A kind of European conscience can grow over the question where, if need be, we want to defend our values with weapons," he stated. "This is why during the presidency of the European Council in the second half of 2008 we would like to press ahead with a Europe of defence."

Mr Morin said Paris is still "co-ordinating" with its EU partners what its presidency agenda would mean in practical terms, but said "independent crisis capacities" for Europe would be one key goal.

"An own planning staff in Brussels forms part of our ideas, as well as the development of a European security strategy for the coming years," he said.

"I could also imagine a sort of military Erasmus programme with an institutionalised exchange of professional soldiers within the EU. Of course this would require a harmonization of military education, at least at the start of careers."

UK and NATO

But France's proposal to create an independent EU military planning unit looks set to face deep scepticism on the other side of the Channel.

The Financial Times earlier this week reported that UK prime minister Gordon Brown's government is very reluctant to adopt any big European initiatives, at least until London has ratified the EU's new reform treaty.

UK officials dislike the idea of an EU defence headquarters and would like European defence forces to focus on peacekeeping and humanitarian tasks, rather than on combat operations which they traditionally see as part of the remit of NATO.

France's president Nicolas Sarkozy however is strongly pushing for a military role for the EU which is independent from that of the Atlantic alliance.

Mr Sarkozy has said he would like France to re-join the military command structures of the Northern Atlantic alliance which it left 43 years ago - but on the condition that EU defence is also strengthened.

Speaking before the US Congress last week, Mr Sarkozy said "NATO cannot be everywhere...The EU must be able to act."

"I say it here before this Congress," he stated. "The more successful we are in the establishment of a European defence, the more France will be resolved to resume its full role in NATO."

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