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12th Apr 2024

UK defence minister supports EU army

The freshly appointed UK defence secretary has publicly supported the idea of a European army, a key ambition of the French EU presidency.

Speaking to the country's Sunday Times newspaper yesterday (26 October), John Hutton, who took on the defence portfolio on 3 October, was asked about the prospects for an EU force.

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He said: "I think we've got to be pragmatic about those things. I think that's perfectly sensible. France is one of our closest allies, and the French believe very strongly in this type of role. If we can support it, we should."

French President Nicholas Sarkozy, whose country currently chairs the EU's six-month rotating presidency, wants the bloc's existing military framework to have a new headquarters and each member state to commit 1,500 troops to rapid reaction forces.

"I'm not one of those EU haters [who think] anything to do with the EU must by definition be terrible," said Mr Hutton. "There's plenty of them around. I think frankly those kind of views are pathetic.

"Britain's role in the world is to be part of those alliances - that's the best way to project power, strength and conviction around the world," he continued. "People who don't understand that don't understand the nature of the modern world."

Mr Hutton also told the British paper that he thought the plans for a European Union mission to tackle piracy off the Somalian coast is a good example of how EU forces can be used.

Although the EU does not have a military, with defence remaining within the domain of each member state, Mr Sarkozy had hoped to place EU defence architecture at the heart of his country's EU chairmanship until his best-laid plans were overtaken by the global financial crisis.

In 2007, during French Bastille Day celebrations in which troops from every EU member state marched down the Champs-Elysees, Mr Sarkozy said the EU should construct a unified military.

The Bastille comments followed similar remarks from German Chancellor Angela Merkel in March of the same year on the occasion of the EU's 50th birthday. At the time, she said in an interview that she supported the idea of a unified EU army.

However, the UK, the largest of the EU's big-three military spenders ahead of France and Germany, has until now opposed the idea of a common EU force, arguing that it would unnecessarily duplicate tasks performed by NATO.

According to the Lisbon Treaty, rejected in June by the Irish in a referendum, the North Atlantic alliance "remains the foundation of the collective defence of [EU] members," with NATO always headed by a US general, however.

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