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23rd Feb 2020

EU must improve military capabilities, UK says

  • "European countries have around 1,200 transport helicopters, yet only 35 are deployed in Afghanistan" (Photo: SHAPE)

UK foreign secretary David Miliband called for a strengthening of the EU's military capacities during his first major speech on EU policy on Thursday (15 November) - an idea that has also been recently raised by France.

"It's frankly embarrassing that when European nations - with almost two million men and women under arms - are only able, at a stretch, to deploy around 100,000 at any one time", Mr Miliband said during a speech at the College of Europe in the Belgian city of Bruges on Thursday.

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"European countries have around 1,200 transport helicopters, yet only 35 are deployed in Afghanistan. And EU member states haven't provided any helicopters in Darfur despite the desperate need there", he went on.

French president Nicolas Sarkozy has also called for more efforts to build an independent European defence capability as well as to modernise NATO, while French defence minister Herve Morin told German newspaper FAZ earlier this week that Paris would put defence high on its EU presidency agenda during the second half of 2008.

So far France and the UK have been the main EU member states to touch upon the EU defence issue, but while their positions converge on some points – such as the need for stronger capabilities, they also diverge on others – such as the need to set up new institutional arrangements.

The 27-member bloc should rather "get on with using the institutions we have got to make progress" rather than set up new ones or "duplicate the work that is done either by NATO or nation states", Mr Miliband said.

However, according to British media, the initial version of the UK foreign secretary's speech was closer to Mr Sarkozy's positions.

According to The Times, shortly before he was to speak at the College of Europe, Mr Miliband was "forced" by prime minister Gordon Brown to abandon references to an "EU military capabilities charter", which would have contained some concrete ideas on beefing up the EU's defence by identifying targets for investment, research and training.

EU 'model' rather than a 'superpower'

During his speech in Bruges, the UK foreign secretary also insisted that the EU should be a "model" for the world rather than a "superpower".

"The truth is that the EU has enlarged, remodelled and opened up. It is not and is not going to become a superstate. But neither is it destined to become a superpower", the minister said.

It could instead be a "model power", notably as regards regional cooperation, free trade, the environment and tackling extremism, he added.

Clashing with French president Nicolas Sarkozy's vision on enlargement and particularly on a possible EU membership for Turkey, Mr Miliband said that the EU should keep its promises and eventually let Ankara in or face the consequences – "a deep and dangerous divide between east and west".

Another traditional point of discord between London and Paris was also highlighted during Mr Miliband's speech.

Only two days after Mr Sarkozy argued before EU parliamentarians that "the word protection should be not be outlawed" and that "we [EU] must be able to protect ourselves as much as others do", the British minister stressed that the bloc should remain open to "trade, ideas and investment".

"Protectionism seeks to stave off globalisation rather than manage it", Mr Miliband said.

"We need to put European agriculture on a sustainable and modern footing; reduce tariffs, open up energy markets and complete the creation of a single markets in services", he added.

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