Cameron waters down EU defence ambitions at summit


For the first time in five years, EU leaders dedicated a European Council summit to defence policy, which had been kept under the rug during the economic crisis. The outcome was far less ambitious than some member states may have expected, and leaders said in their final conclusions that they would bring up the issue again in the coming year.

As experts expected, the gathering of European leaders at a summit dedicated to defence on Thursday in Brussels was not the "big night" for European defence but progress was made on greater cooperation.

Member states should develop capabilities and make them "available to the EU", they agreed. 

UK’s prime minister made it clear at the very start of the meeting that he would not commit for anything that resembles an EU army. At the doorstep of the Council, he said:

"It isn't right for the European Union to have capabilities, armies, air forces and the rest of it. And we need to keep that demarcation correct between cooperation, which is right, and EU capabilities, which is wrong. I'm confident we'll do so. We are making good progress and I look forward to the discussions."

Earlier in the week Cameron was quoted saying that NATO’s supremacy would not be put into question: "Any EU action should be complementary to that but not duplicating it.”

Eventually, the final conclusions said that EU leaders called for more cooperation and strengthening of the individual member states' military capacity. Governments will also focus on pooling investments in the defence industry, which has experienced severe cuts over the past ten years.

Hollande says British fears are unfounded

However, Hollande told reporters on Thursday night that Cameron had misunderstood the message and that an EU army was a "false concern".

“Nobody thought that it would be up to the EU to establish an army, it was not the aim, it was an unfounded fear, because nothing hinted at that. France has its own army which is sovereign […] for example about the drone, it’s up to us to work on it so that each of our armies can use it.”

Hollande said it had never been the intention to create a European defense force, and the recent cooperation between France and Britain has gone in the opposite direction of a centralised force.

Strengthening NATO

Both approaches were backed by NATO secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who joined the summit at the request of the British prime minister.

“The plan is not to establish an EU army, but to strengthen the defence of the bloc and of its members, which "will make NATO and the EU stronger," Rasmussen told the British press after meeting with EU leaders.

But in a nod to Hollande, he also called EU member states to invest and acquire the capabilities they need, singling out in particular air to air refueling, drones and heavy transport.

"We need to recommit to security, otherwise we risk seeing the USA disengage and drift apart from Europe, it will not benefit the EU and it will not benefit the world," Rasmussen said.

Rasmussen is widely said to be eyeing the job of European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, whose mandate expires next year.

The president of the defence subcommittee of the European Parliament, Arnaud Danjean(France, European People's Party) tweeted: 

"Relaunching Europe's Defence, one of the (rare) promises on external policy of Hollande torpedoed tonight by Cameron."

More than 10 years have passed since France and the UK launched the European Security and Defence Policy through the St Malo Declaration.

The European Commission attempted to relaunch cooperation in 2007 with a communication which aimed at fostering a more competitive European defence industry.

The EU executive set up a task force on defence industries and markets, outlining that more than 1,350 SMEs are present on the European defence sector. It re-launched its attempt in July 2013, with a follow up Communication on defence and industrial policy.

>> Read: Barnier urges Europeans to build their own drones

  • 20 Dec.: Day 2 of EU Council summit

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