Sunday

23rd Jul 2017

Opinion

Franco-British defence cooperation - a historic crossroads?

  • "The two leaders must attempt to overcome the friction and inertia which characterise all defence bureaucracies" (Photo: SHAPE)

The Brown-Sarkozy summit in late March will offer a great opportunity to boost defence cooperation between the UK and France. A substantial agenda, set out in a secret report prepared over the past two years, is waiting to be taken forward. But real progress will require a determined exercise of will by the two leaders.

Some doubt that Britain will be ready for any new defence initiative with France whilst ratification of the Lisbon Treaty is still under debate in the UK Parliament. But French President Nicolas Sarkozy's overtures to the US and to NATO - soon to be manifested with more French troops for Afghanistan - have made the politics easier.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now and get 40% off for an annual subscription. Sale ends soon.

  1. €90 per year. Use discount code EUOBS40%
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

And both sides have the best of incentives to increase their cooperation - financial necessity. At the outset of their present defence review, the French admitted that their forward re-equipment plans were unaffordable by over 40%. The cash crunch in the UK Ministry of Defence is almost as severe. Pressure of operations is also taking its toll on men and machinery on both sides of the Channel, tightening the financial bind.

Sooner rather than later, both countries will be facing major cuts in their defence capabilities - unless they can find ways to help each other by pooling their efforts and resources.

Happily, a plan to do just that has now been identified, in some detail. Almost two years ago, the last Blair-Chirac summit set up a small, high-level working group to work on deepening bilateral co-operation.

The group, comprising the two relevant deputy defence ministers and two top industry executives, submitted their report last July. It remains under wraps. But it describes the current moment as ‘an historic cross-roads'; and it contains a long list of practical, concrete proposals for pooling resources and sharing the benefits.

These range from setting up a joint defence research fund (worth 100 million euro a year), to cooperation on different missiles. Various sub-systems (for combat vehicles, aero-engines, drones) and a dozen technology areas (from radar to energetics) are identified as ripe for collaboration and interdependency. Opportunities for shared in-service support of common equipments, and joint out-sourcing, are catalogued.

So - should we expect the Summit to announce a bold step forward in these areas,

acting as a spur to other Europeans and signalling to the next US President that Europe's two leading military powers are determined to stay up with the hunt? Maybe - but only if the two leaders make the effort needed to overcome the friction and inertia which characterise all defence bureaucracies.

Defence establishments ‘play safe' - it is their nature. ‘Playing safe' in the present context will mean a summit outcome long on declarations and promises of further study, and short on hard commitments, especially involving money.

Watch to see, for example, whether the research fund idea sees the light of day. The bureaucracies will be trying hard to bury it, and with it the inconvenient requirement to work together to find common ground. But, absent such outcomes, friction and inertia will again have won the day.

It is now, in the final weeks of summit preparation, that the two leaders must exert themselves to insist on outcomes which measure up to the opportunity and the need.

Nick Witney is former Chief Executive of the European Defence Agency and currently a Senior Policy Fellow with the European Council on Foreign Relations (www.ecfr.eu)

Winter is here for Spitzenkandidat, but he'll survive

Candidates from all political families should be presenting their vision on where the Union should be headed. European socialists want to keep the Spitzenkandidat procedure for future elections.

Greece needs a new plan

Two years into its third bailout, Greece needs to combine the necessary fiscal targets with a new vision. This can be done in the context of the ongoing industrial revolution.

Ceta and pesticides: A citizens' rights issue

The trade agreement with Canada will begin to apply on 21 September. But there is still a potential conflict on the right to data protection vs. the right to access information.

Overcoming the plot against Turkish democracy

One year after an attempted coup, what Turkey needs is not biased and groundless criticism but more cooperation, dialogue and understanding, writes its Europe minister Omer Celik.

Greece needs a new plan

Two years into its third bailout, Greece needs to combine the necessary fiscal targets with a new vision. This can be done in the context of the ongoing industrial revolution.

News in Brief

  1. Polish parliament adopts controversial justice reform
  2. GMO opt-out plan unlikely to go anywhere in 2017
  3. Slovak PM threatens to boycott inferior food
  4. France takes Google's 'right to be forgotten' to EU court
  5. Turkey accuses German companies of supporting terror
  6. Israel's Netanyahu caught calling EU 'crazy'
  7. UK does not collect enough data to expel EU nationals
  8. Polish president threatens to veto justice reform

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressJean-Marie Le Pen Faces Trial for Oven Comments About Jewish Singer
  2. ACCAAnnounces Belt & Road Research at Shanghai Conference
  3. ECPAFood waste in the field can double without crop protection. #WithOrWithout #pesticides
  4. EU2017EEEstonia Allocates €1 Million to Alleviate Migratory Pressure From Libya in Italy
  5. Dialogue PlatformFethullah Gulen's Message on the Anniversary of the Coup Attempt in Turkey
  6. Martens CentreWeeding out Fake News: An Approach to Social Media Regulation
  7. European Jewish CongressEJC Concerned by Normalisation of Antisemitic Tropes in Hungary
  8. Counter BalanceOut for Summer Episode 1: How the EIB Sweeps a Development Fiasco Under the Rug
  9. CESICESI to Participate in Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee on Postal Services
  10. ILGA-EuropeMalta Keeps on Rocking: Marriage Equality on Its Way
  11. European Friends of ArmeniaEuFoA Director and MEPs Comment on the Recent Conflict Escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh
  12. EU2017EEEstonian Presidency Kicks off Youth Programme With Coding Summer School

Latest News

  1. Dutch coalition talks lengthiest in 40 years
  2. Polish parliament steps up showdown with EU
  3. EU urges UK to clarify its Brexit positions
  4. Law expert: direct EU powers have become too complicated
  5. Winter is here for Spitzenkandidat, but he'll survive
  6. Mafia money pollutes the EU economy
  7. Central Europe should be wary of Brexit stopping
  8. Poland's 'July coup' and what it means for the judiciary