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10th Dec 2022

UK foreign minister backs French defence plans

UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband on Wednesday (2 July) backed French plans to boost European defence, saying they were not incompatible with NATO and stressing they did not mean creating a European army.

"The countries of Europe need to be better at using hard power. That is why I strongly welcome President Sarkozy's proposals to reintegrate France into NATO's military structure and support his call for the EU to play a greater role in crisis management," Mr Miliband told Progress, an independent organisation of Labour Party members, Reuters reports.

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  • Mr Miliband backed France's plans to boost European defence - but reiterated his opposition to creating a "European army." (Photo: eurocorps.net)

Paris has said that strengthening Europe's defence policy would be one of the main priorities of its six-month EU presidency, which started on 1 July, and securing the backing of the UK as another military heavyweight in the EU was seen as essential in that respect.

Mr Miliband's statements are the first to openly support Mr Sarkozy's defence plans coming from a UK politician of this rank. Britain has traditionally been wary of such ideas – fearing they could undermine NATO, or pose a threat to its national sovereignty.

The British foreign secretary stressed, however, that strong European defence was fully compatible with the North Atlantic alliance and was in no way a threat to it.

NATO would remain the "cornerstone of European defence," he said, adding that the US ambassador to the organisation, Victoria Nuland, had herself spoken in favour of a "more capable European defence capacity."

"As the Balkans wars in the 1990s demonstrated, unless Europe can develop its own capabilities," Mr Miliband added, "it will be consigned always to wait impotently until the US and NATO are ready and able to intervene."

The foreign secretary also underlined that the French plans did not mean creating a supranational European army – something still strongly opposed by the UK.

"There's no question of a European army. President Sarkozy is against a European army and so am I. What we are in favour of is British, French and other troops working together," he later told Channel Four news television.

In a speech in June, the French president made a similar statement, saying that French forces "are and will remain national. They will not be integrated into any supranational force."

On Wednesday, Mr Miliband also expressed a more general UK support for the priorities France has set for its time at the EU helm.

"What strikes me about the French priorities for their presidency is how closely they tie in with our own ambitions for the EU… whether on energy and climate change, migration, near neighbourhood policy, or the next steps on European defence," he said.

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