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22nd Jan 2022

Irish 'no' camp says Paris hiding plans for EU defence

On the eve of Ireland's referendum on the EU treaty, the Irish "no" camp has accused France of trying to hide its intentions to push for beefing up EU military capabilities and creating an EU army commanded by Brussels.

According to Kathy Sinnott, independent MEP and fervent opponent of the Lisbon treaty, the French government is keeping a promised blueprint on European defence and security secret until after the crucial vote on Thursday (12 June).

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"The French white paper on EU defence has been ready for release since May, but the French government are withholding it until after the Irish referendum," the MEP said, demanding that the text be released immediately.

According to the MEP, the Lisbon treaty would force member states to contribute substantial amounts of cash and military expertise to comply with the text's provision on boosting EU military capability, a provision that Paris is ready to take up on as soon as the text has been ratified by all EU member states.

The Lisbon Treaty states that Ireland is not obliged to take part in, or be bound by, decisions in the area of freedom, security and justice, such as military cooperation.

But Ms Sinnott insists that under the new treaty, Ireland could lose its long-cherished military neutrality. She points to a clause in the treaty which states that "member states shall undertake progressively to improve their military capabilities."

"Even if the Lisbon Treaty gives us the right to keep our veto on sending Irish soldiers to the world's hot spots under an EU flag, we would not have the right to refuse to join the EU arms race," Ms Sinnott told EUobserver.

"In the name of solidarity with the other member states, we would have to keep our machinery up to date, send our military experts and increase defence spending. Irish tax-payers would have to pay for EU weaponry."

Irish neutrality

The Irish Labour party, a strong supporter of the treaty, in an immediate response to Ms Sinnott's accusations, on Tuesday (10 June) said that Irish neutrality had never and would not in the future be jeopardized by the Lisbon deal.

"Ireland has a veto on EU defence policy, and Ireland is not bound by any mutual defence commitment, nor is Ireland party to any plans to develop a European army," Eamon Gilmore, leader of the Irish Labour party said in a statement.

A spokesperson for the French government, surprised by the accusations from Ms Sinnott, told EUobserver that the white paper on defence was an "internal exercise" and that his government had never made any promises concerning the publication date to its European colleagues.

"It was always said it would come out in June, but we never talked about whether it would be before or after the Irish referendum; this is an entirely French paper," he said.

French newspapers reported last month that the Irish government had explicitly asked the French government to keep its defence strategy quiet until after the 12 June referendum. The spokesperson denied knowledge of such a deal.

France pushes defence

Paris' intention to reassert itself at the centre of European politics in an area where it has considerable assets (defence) and to kick-start a new era in European security policy is well-known to European policymakers since the arrival of latest president to the Elysee palace.

Nicolas Sarkozy said already in August last year that France would push for a bolder strategy on defence when it holds the rotating presidency - the political leadership - of the EU, starting on 1 July this year.

"Europe must progressively affirm itself as a first-rank player for peace and security," Sarkozy said, suggesting among other things to strengthen Europe's shared defence forces and set out a blueprint for the future deployment of troops from all member states, commanded from a new EU military headquarters in Brussels.

Last week, French defence minister Herve Morin suggested that EU countries on a voluntary basis create a common market for weapons, an area where currently EU common market rules or rules on procurement and tenders do not apply.

EU capitals have so far jealously protected their arms industries from the EU open market, claiming the defence market is a crucial matter of national security. Previous calls for a European defence have also sparked fears that it could undermine the work of NATO.

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