22nd May 2019

Summit boosts EU security and defence

The European Union's security and defence policy and a deal dating back to 1999 in which the EU would be able to deploy 60,000 troops within 60 days won a renewed political endorsement on Friday(12 December) by EU leaders, who failed however to establish any deadlines or specific financial commitments.

"Co-operation with NATO is important, but we need our own defence policy together with our allies. The EU cannot remain a midget in defence and a giant economically. This is not possible," French President Nicolas Sarkozy told a press conference after the last meeting of heads of state and government he chaired as EU president.

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Yet what had earlier been presented as one of the main priorities of the French EU presidency, L'Europe de la defence got left behind in favour of discussions over the Lisbon Treaty, climate change and the financial crisis during the summit.

Unlike these three thorniest of dossiers, the defence package was largely uncontroversial, as it was mainly a political statement aimed at giving "a fresh impetus" to the bloc's security and defence policy (ESDP) without antagonising NATO or touching upon the national competence of member states in this area.

President Sarkozy called it "monumental progress" that the US no longer saw the ESDP as an aggressive policy against NATO, with both outgoing President George W. Bush and incoming President Barack Obama now supporting the EU policy.

"It's not a choice between the US and the ESDP. The two go together," the French president stressed, mentioning that the next NATO summit would take place in Strasbourg.

In June, Mr Sarkozy had announced that France would "soon" rejoin NATO's military structure, with experts suggesting that this might happen in April 2009, during the alliance's 60 anniversary summit, which would take place on both sides of the River Rhine, in Strasbourg (France) and Kehl (Germany).

The principle of strengthening the transatlantic partnership by setting up an EU-NATO high-level group was endorsed once again at the EU summit.

Yet the high-level group had up until now been so far blocked a row between Turkey – a NATO member – and Cyprus – an EU member – over Northern Cyprus, occupied in 1974 by the Turkish army after an attempt by Greece to annex the island.

Old plans endorsed anew

The EU leaders confirmed at the summit the aim of being able to deploy 60,000 troops within 60 days for an operation – a goal which was initially agreed in 1999 – but without setting a precise deadline or expenditure commitment.

They also agreed that the bloc should be able to plan and conduct simultaneously several military and civilian operations, including a maritime one, such as the freshly launched Atalanta naval mission to fight pirates off the Somali coasts.

"For its operations and missions, the European Union uses, in an appropriate manner and in accordance with its procedures, the resources and capabilities of member states of the European Union and, if appropriate for its military operations, of NATO," the summit's conclusions read.

Experts have repeatedly warned that 70 percent of Europe's land forces are unable to operate outside national territories, while both NATO and the ESDP missions require expeditionary forces.

"Europe's 10,000 main battle tanks would be fine for a re-run of the battle of Kursk, but are little use in Chad or Afghanistan. Figures such as these highlight the extent to which Europeans' combined annual defence spending in Europe of some €200 billion is simply money down the drain," Nick Witney, former head of the European defence agency and an expert with the European Council on Foreign Relations, a European think tank, wrote in July.

Pooling and sharing equipment, aircraft and ships was still a "goal" to be reached on a "voluntary basis ... with priority being given to planning, crisis management, space and maritime security."

No troops for Congo

The French president defended the decision taken by EU foreign ministers not to send troops to Congo, despite a call from the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, to send a bridging transition force until UN reinforcements could be deployed.

Mr Sarkozy stressed that there were already 17,000 UN troops deployed in Congo and that it was probably not a matter of "numbers", but of "problems in the organisation", if these soldiers were not doing "a decent job."

After having spoken to regional leaders, including Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who said his country is ready to commit more troops to peacekeeping in Congo, Mr Sarkozy asked if it wasn't better to "draw on regional forces first of all."

He noted that the EU was already in a peacekeeping mission in Chad.

"You can't be everywhere all the time. You have your limits," he said.

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