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25th Mar 2019

European defence remains a French priority, says Sarkozy

  • Defence issues are set to feature strongly over the next six months (Photo: SHAPE)

French president Nicolas Sarkozy has reaffirmed his intention to make European defence a major theme during his country's six-month stint at running the European Union, beginning in less that two week's time.

In a key address before French military brass on Tuesday (17 June), Mr Sarkozy said "building European defence is our priority" and that "whatever the future of the Treaty of Lisbon" he would not change his mind.

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Last week Irish voters rejected the Lisbon Treaty, a new set of institutional rules for the bloc that makes some significant changes in the defence area.

These includes an article on the "progressive framing of a common union defence policy", an article on mutual assistance and the possibility for "permanent structured co-operation" between countries that are politically willing and military capable.

The French president also renewed calls for a "modern, flexible" European force of 60,000 soldiers that could be deployed anywhere in the world for up to a year.

Rapid Reaction Force

EU member states in 1999 committed themselves to achieving a Rapid Reaction Force of this size, deployable within 60 days. The goal was meant to be realised in 2003 but has suffered from flagging enthusiasm, lack of resources and duplication problems with NATO.

Mr Sarkozy said he wants to make defence and security policy an example of a "concrete Europe, of a Europe that responds to the needs of its citizens."

"I very much hope that the French presidency of the European Union (…) will be the first step in a veritable relaunch of European defence for the coming years," he said, according to AP.

But he noted that national armies would remain so as they cannot be integrated into a "supranational army."

Mr Sarkozy also said that the Europe's vocation is to embody an ideal of peace and liberty.

"I am of the conviction that it is France's vocation to carry this ideal of peace and liberty. It is Europe's ideal to embody it in the current world. For Europe, whatever its institutional ups and downs, has overcome its divisions, its historic confrontations, to create, with an ever closer union, a unique model of cooperation between our nations."

Rejoining NATO

The French president also restated France's wish to rejoin NATO's integrated military command, which it left in 1966 and announced a streamlining of the French army.

The country's defence white book recommends the cutting of 54,000 military posts from the current 330,000 within the next six years, making its smaller and more mobile.

France is to spend €377 billion from 2009 to 2020 on defence including €200 billion on new equipment, said Mr Sarkozy, with an increase in the military budget foreseen from 2012.

The announcements are part of the first overhaul of French defence in 14 years. In the run-up to the Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty some of the discussion had focussed on whether Ireland's traditional neutrality would be eroded.

The anti-treaty side claimed that publication of the French defence paper had been delayed until after the referendum in case it gave weight to these neutrality fears - a claim given credence in French newspapers but denied by the Elysee Palace.

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