French President François Hollande visited Portugal on Tuesday (19 July) and will stop over in Ireland on Thursday (21 July) in an attempt to reinforce the foundations of the EU, including fostering increased defence cooperation, following the terrorist attack in Nice last week. EurActiv France reports.
François Hollande has had to cut short his planned European tour after the terrorist attack carried out in Nice during Bastille day celebrations last Thursday (14 July).
The French head of state had initially planned to visit Vienna, Prague and Bratislava as well as the Irish and Portuguese capitals. But these official visits have been postponed after the lorry attack that killed 84 people on the French riviera city.
“The visits to Lisbon on Tuesday and Dublin on Thursday (21 July) are now working visits to prepare the Bratislava summit on the future of Europe in September, not the official visits that were originally planned,” a representative of the president said.
EU defence solidarity
President Hollande’s two visits will focus on European solidarity in defence, a subject long blocked by Britain.
Officials in Paris believe attitudes towards tighter EU defence cooperation could change now that British voters have decided to leave the European Union in a referendum last month.
The French president will use these visits to “insist on security and defence aspects” in view of September’s Bratislava summit, where EU leaders will attempt to find new ways to relaunch the EU after the shock of Brexit, French officials said.
In Portugal on Tuesday (19 July), Hollande met both President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa and Prime Minister Antonio Costa.
“But these discussions will carry on all summer,” the president’s entourage said. Paris’ objective is to breathe new life into the European debate ahead of Bratislava.
Repeated terrorist attacks in France and the many criticisms raised about the French government’s handling of the terror threat have pushed the thorny subject of European defence to the top of the agenda.
“The summit in September will not mark the end of the subject,” the official said, however.
The UK’s vote to decision the EU has also given more scope for possible actions to relaunch the project. For years London had blocked any movement towards closer union.
After long taking a neutral stance on the issue of a European army, Germany has finally published a white paper on the issue.
The day after the Nice attack, Hollande announced “a French initiative to strengthen European defence”, in collaboration with Germany.
France’s objectives are quite clear. Paris hopes for more cooperation between European partners on research, but also to form European partnerships in industry and defence.
“Strengthening partner countries, particularly in Africa” is another priority area for European collaboration, according to one source.
In this context, a meeting with Portugal could be beneficial, due to the country’s colonial past and its strong links with Africa. Lisbon was one of the partners to provide military assistance to Paris after the terrorist attacks in November 2015.
The EU has long been trying to improve its cooperation on defence issues, with some countries including Germany and France having formed so-called “battlegroups” that are ready to be deployed in crisis zones.
Attempts to move towards a common defence have been part of the European project since its inception. In 1950, French Prime Minister René Pleven proposed a plan for a far-reaching defence integration – including the setting up of European Army and the appointment of a European minister of defence. But France itself killed off the idea before it got off the ground.
in 2015, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker sparked outcry when he said the European Union needed its own army to face up to Russia and other threats, as well as to restore the bloc’s standing around the world.
Moves towards the creation of a more integrated European defence have gained momentum, pushed by rising insecurity at Europe's borders and a emergence of a more aggressive Russia.
The European People's Party (EPP), the largest political family in Europe, adopted a strategic paper at its Congress last year outlining steps towards a full-fledged EU Security and Defence Union, and ultimately a European army.
- 16 September: Summit in Bratislava on the future of the EU.