Wednesday

20th Mar 2019

French EU defence plan is not anti-NATO, minister says

  • Sarkozy (l), Merkel (c) and Brown: France is fighting reluctance in the UK and Germany towards its proposals on EU security and defence (Photo: The Council of the European Union)

The US is still critical of the EU's common security and defence policy, a pet project of the bloc's French presidency, but French interior minister Michelle Alliot-Marie defended the initiative on Monday as not being aimed against NATO.

Challenged by the deputy chairman of the NATO military committee, Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberrry to explain France's view on the transatlantic link in the enhanced EU security and defence policy, Ms Alliot-Marie said "there are countries who don't have confidence in this [transatlantic] dialogue and believe a strong European security and defence policy is aimed at minimizing NATO, but I believe the opposite."

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She stressed that the EU is better adapted to deal with certain conflicts, while in others "NATO power" is needed.

Both were addressing a 100-odd audience at the "Security and Defence Days" conference in Brussels on Monday evening.

Mr Eikenberry made acidic remarks about the EU's ability to plan, deploy and conduct successful missions, stressing that out of the bloc's 20 missions so far, five were short-term operations in Congo. "I'm not questioning the value of those missions, they were successful in the relief of pressing humanitarian problems, but what is the overarching strategic thinking in the EU with regard to the Congo?"

He also criticized the EU's "overwhelming preference for soft power" and lack of deployable troops despite massive spending on defence.

"European security in this century depends on peace and stability abroad. This is a paradigm shift often stated but still not evident in terms of policies and strategic choices. The current European strategy does not articulate clear regional priorities or comprehensive integrated responses to trans-national threats," he said.

The NATO deputy chairman nevertheless underlined that in the US there is openness towards a closer cooperation between his organisation and the European Union. "President's Sarkozy's notion of bringing more Europe into NATO is pushing against a door that is already wide open," he argued.

French defence minister Herve Morin told the Financial Times on Monday that the mood in Washington had changed, after president Sarkozy announced that France would become a full member of NATO.

"It took hours of conversation for the Americans to realise that France wasn't trying to set up a rival operation and that European defence could actually bolster the capabilities of the transatlantic alliance as a whole," Mr Morin had told FT.

Mr Morin also criticised British opposition to establishing a headquarters in Brussels for the EU's common security and defence policy (ESDP). "I appreciate British pragmatism but we have a situation where we have numerous headquarters - in Britain, France, Germany, Italy and now even Greece - and that costs us money," he said.

More ESDP even without Lisbon Treaty

Meanwhile, German conservative MEP Karl von Wogau, the chairman of the European Parliament's sub-committee on security and defence argued at a parliament hearing on Monday, that the failure of the Lisbon treaty, rejected in the Irish referendum, is no impediment for building up the ESDP.

The treaty would have allowed more EU power in the field of security and defense, which still remains a core competence of national governments, the MEP said. But he referred to the creation in 2004 of the European Defence Agency (EDA), an EU body aimed at helping the bloc's governments to co-ordinate and prioritise defence spending, as an example of how the ESDP can proceed without Lisbon.

Nick Witney, former EDA chief, argued the same line, while praising France's efforts to re-energize the ESDP. He also stressed the need for a common headquarters in Brussels, capable of strategic planning for the EU's different missions.

UK opposes Brussels headquarters

France's push for a common headquarter is being challenged by the UK argument that the EU can draw on NATO's planning capabilities and its 17,000-strong European headquarter in Mons, some 70 km south of Brussels.

This is enshrined in the current EU treaty of Nice, which says that "when a given crisis gives rise to an EU-led operation making use of NATO assets and capabilities, the EU and NATO will draw on the so-called "Berlin Plus arrangements."

"These arrangements cover three main elements that are directly connected to operations and which can be combined: EU access to NATO planning, NATO European command options and use of NATO assets and capabilities."

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