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14th Apr 2024

Weak start for EU mutual defence clause

Two months after the EU mutual defence clause was activated for the first time, its effects are limited and its implementation is lacking in clarity.

In a debate at the European Parliament on Wednesday (20 January) and in a resolution on Thursday, MEPs will point out that no rules exist on how to use the clause and that EU institutions have no leverage over the process.

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EU member states granted military assistance to France in November in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks.

President Francois Hollande asked for the use of article 42.7 of the EU treaty, which states that when "a member state is the victim of armed aggression on its territory, other member states shall have towards it an obligation of aid and assistance by all the means in their power".

"So far, almost all EU member states signalled their total support to France," the French ministry of defence said in an email to EUobserver.

Member states "indicated that they are ready to examine propositions that will be addressed to them, according to their defence capacities", the ministry added, mentioning only a few EU countries.

Germany and Britain, the other two big EU powers, decided to take part in operations against the Islamic State group (IS) in Syria.

Limited resources

Britain started air strikes in December from its Akrotiri base in Cyprus, "with a maximum will to provide support in the Levant", the French ministry said.

Germany, for its part, has decided to provide naval and air support to the French Charles-de-Gaulle aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean. It has also increased its support for the training of Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in Iraq and sent 650 men to participate in the UN's Minusma mission that aims to stabilise the situation in Mali.

Belgium has sent a frigate to support the Charles-de-Gaulle, which ended its mission early January. Sweden gave "a significant contribution in response to French demands for logistical support (munitions, planes, transport)", the French ministry said.

"Other countries (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia ...) contribute by sending several men as reinforcement in the theatre of operations", mainly in Africa, the ministry also said in its email.

"For the rest of European countries, the will to help is there but resources are limited or the arrangements take time," the ministry told EUobserver, in a veiled admission that EU assistance is not as important as expected.

On Wednesday, France will host a meeting with defence ministers from the six other main contributors to the anti-IS operations in Syria: Germany, Australia, Italy, the Netherlands, the UK and the US.

More support under the mutual defence clause is expected to be announced, especially from Italy.

'Not much visibility'

Although the assistance clause is an EU mechanism under the EU treaty, the institutions are not involved in discussions between France and its partners.

"All is bilateral. We don't have much visibility," an EU source told EUobserver.

France however gave a state of play to the political and security committee of EU ambassadors (COPS) on 15 January and promised to do so again regularly, the source said.

In the resolution they will vote on during a session on Thursday, MEPs will ask that the mechanism is reviewed to give a role to the EU.


In its motion for the resolution, the centre-right EPP group said it regretted that "no analysis and no guidelines were available upon the activation of the mutual defence clause, with the result that ad-hoc measures, ad-hoc management and ad-hoc cooperation were required in the present case".

The EPP "calls on member states to utilise the full potential of the European institutions; renews its calls on the VP/HR, the Council and the Commission to clarify the relevant Union means and procedures to that end".

In their motion, the centre-left S&D group, the Green group, and the liberal Alde group expressed the same regret and demand.

European defence

All groups also stated that the activation of the clause should be used to develop EU defence initiatives and build up EU military capacities.

"The activation of the mutual assistance clause is a singular opportunity to establish the grounds for a strong and sustainable European Security and Defence Union," the Alde motion says.

"The current activation of Article 42(7) TEU should be the catalyst for unleashing the potential of all the security- and defence-related Treaty provisions that should follow suit," the S&D motion says.

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