Wednesday

1st Feb 2023

No 'giant leap' on EU defence at summit

  • 'You can just imagine the headlines in the Daily Mail if [Cameron] agreed to expand EU military powers' (Photo: Defence Images)

Britain and Germany are aiming to downgrade plans for deeper EU military co-operation.

EU leaders meeting in Brussels on Thursday (19 December) will discuss joint defence for the first time in five years.

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The talks come amid calls from the US and from Nato for Europe to do more on security crises in its own neighbourhood, instead of relying on American hardware as in Libya in 2011.

According to draft summit conclusions circulated on Wednesday, they will endorse a series of small projects.

The list includes: creating a club of EU states to build military drones in 2020 to 2025; creating another club to develop satellite communications; and building up EU states' fleets of air-to-air refuelling tankers.

They will ask the European Commission to spend more of its "Horizon 2020" research money on military technology and to draft a study on how to jointly buy military kit.

Leaders will also ask EU institutions to draft a new Cyber Defence Policy and a new Maritime Security Strategy in 2014.

The cyber defence paper will only tackle how to protect EU-level crisis missions, not national assets, from being hacked.

Monday's draft conclusions already bear the scars of Britain's mistrust of EU integration.

An earlier text, from 9 December, spoke of the EU as a "global player" and of strengthening "the Union's strategic autonomy."

But the new draft cuts out "global player" and refers to the "strategic autonomy" of "member states" instead.

The UK and a mixed bag of allies - Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece and Romania - is also pushing for the final text to spell out the primacy of Nato as Europe's security provider.

"We are prepared to be quite tough on this at the summit," a British diplomat said.

Meanwhile, Germany has quietly proposed to drop the 2020 to 2025 deadline for the drone club.

An EU source said it wants the date to be less firm "for commercial reasons" linked to German companies, but declined to give details.

For its part, France, the EU's only other foreign policy power, wants to add a new line on EU funding for unilateral interventions, such as its operation in Mali or the Central African Republic.

"We want to launch a debate on how to better fund military operations, instead of on a case by case basis. We don't expect any decisions tomorrow, but the summit conclusions should reflect this," a French diplomat noted.

Analysts told EUobserver the fact that EU leaders are thinking about defence for the first time since the financial crisis is in itself an achievement.

"It [the EU summit] is not going to be a giant leap forward. But it shouldn't be regarded as a failure because of this," Nick Witney, the former director of the European Defence Agency, said.

He warned that Germany's plan to strip out the drone deadline is damaging, however.

"The drone issue is fundamental for the competitiveness of the European aerospace industry," he said.

"Anything that takes deadlines out of the conclusions is a retrograde step … If they just repeat old platitudes on a common approach, it's not going to be helpful," he added.

Vivien Pertusot, from the Paris-based think tank Ifri, said neither Britain or France are ready to give EU institutions the right to own and operate their own military technology, such as surveillance drones.

But he noted that the two countries are fundamentally opposed on EU-level defence in "ideological" terms.

"For France, it's a long standing ambition for the EU to become more engaged and more robust. But the Brits are ideologically opposed to the EU as a security actor. They fear that if the EU develops in this direction, then 10 to 15 years from now, it could become a competitor to Nato," he said.

He added that British PM David Cameron has erusoceptic votes in mind in the run up to elections.

"You can just imagine the headlines in [British tabloid] the Daily Mail if he agreed to expand EU military powers," Pertusot said.

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