As Norway and Sweden recently joined the French-led European Intervention Initiative (EI2) and the military coalition’s defence ministers accepted Italy’s participation request, Emmanuel Macron’s European defence dream is seeing a silent but steady advance.
EI2 was first proposed by the French head of state in his Sorbonne speech in September 2017, where he called for promoting Europe’s strategic autonomy in security and defence and the creation of a “real European army”.
The French-led initiative was officially formed in June 2018, when defence ministers from Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Estonia, France, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and the UK signed a letter of intent in Paris, establishing the cooperation outside of the existing structures such as NATO or the EU’s defence arm.
Finland joined the military coalition in November 2018, when the initiative officially became operational.
At the coalition’s second meeting held in the Netherlands on Friday (20 September), the ten defence ministers welcomed Norway and Sweden into the fold.
Ministers signed a document containing the conditions for participation, working methods and scope of the initiative and agreed that high-level representatives of the military staff of all EI2 participants will meet twice a year.
According to the founding document, the idea is to develop the capability to rapidly deploy joint military operations, civilian evacuations, or disaster relief with the ultimate aim to establish a “shared strategic culture” that would make it possible for participating member states to act together on missions as part of NATO, the EU, UN or other ad-hoc coalitions.
During the meeting, participants also agreed not to duplicate existing structures such as the EU, NATO, UN or OSCE stating that “the EI2 only complements and is a flexible, non-binding forum in which all participants are equal.”
“The EI2 has already allowed us to intervene together in the Bahamas to help the victims of Hurricane Dorian and our staffs are now in close relationship,” French defence minister Florence Parly said after the gathering.
“This new common strategic culture should allow us to go further in the coordination, to be able to carry out operations of evacuation of nationals or even operations of high intensity,” Parly added.
In addition, Italy said on Thursday (19 September) it would be willing to join the coalition of European militaries, ready to react to crises near the continent’s borders.
Rome’s declaration came after talks between Macron and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on 18 September aimed at turning the page on Italy’s previous anti-EU populist government and reviving ties between Paris and Rome.
“Italy has officially communicated its readiness to join the European Intervention Initiative EI2, providing its particular national expertise in the security sector in the Mediterranean region,” the prime minister’s office said in a statement.
As the initiative grows in force, the EI2 is planned to operate a “light” permanent secretariat based on a network of military liaison officers, with the French defence ministry, which effectively leaves Paris setting the pace of the project.
Under Macron, France has made efforts to take European defence integration forward and will have the most developed army of the EU27 after the UK’s departure from the bloc.
Parly said last year the EI2 is “clearly an initiative that allows some non-EU states to associate,” noting that the UK “wants to maintain cooperation with Europe beyond bilateral ties” after Brexit.
According to a French proposal, some of the EU’s military projects developed under the bloc’s Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) could be integrated into the EI2 in the future.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]