The UK will oppose all EU plans for increased military cooperation that could interfere with NATO, despite being about to leave the union, Defence Minister Michael Fallon said Tuesday (27 September).
“We are going to continue to oppose any idea of an EU army or an EU army headquarters which would simply undermine NATO,” Fallon said at a meeting with his 27 counterparts in Bratislava, where European Union leaders earlier this month agreed to step up joint military efforts.
France and Germany made the case for the European Union’s most ambitious defence plan in almost two decades today, aiming to persuade sceptical eastern members and avoid a showdown with Britain over its military future outside the bloc.
Asked if Britain could veto the plans while it still remains a member of the European Union ahead of Brexit, Fallon said: “There is no majority here for a EU army.”
“There are a number of other countries who believe with us that cuts across the sovereignty of individual nation states,” he added.
“We agree Europe needs to do more, it’s facing terrorism, it’s facing migration, but simply duplicating or undermining Nato is the wrong way to do it.”
EU leaders met without Britain in the Slovakian capital on 16 September to discuss plans to move forward in the wake of the stunning British vote to leave the bloc on 23 June.
They agreed on a six-month roadmap to create a new “vision” for the EU, including beefed up defence cooperation, which Britain has always opposed.
The proposals include increasing spending on military missions, jointly developing assets such as helicopters and drones, expanding peacekeeping abroad and building stronger defences against state-sponsored hackers in cyberspace.
Building on stop-start initiatives dating back to the late 1990s, the plans could strengthen the bloc’s ability to respond without the help of the United States to challenges on its borders, such as failing states or a more aggressive Russia.
European military spending is a fraction of the United States’ and only a handful of countries, including Britain, Estonia and Greece, spend generously on defence.
France is a major European military and Germany has many military assets but has traditionally been cautious given its history in the 20th century’s two world wars.
Britain, which retains full voting rights until it leaves the European Union, is adamant the plans must not weaken NATO and has some support from wary Poland and the Baltic nations.
Britain has blocked such plans for years, fearing a European army run from Brussels. France, which along with Britain is Europe’s main military power, now sees an opportunity to show leadership without London in the way.
But the political momentum could still stall. The EU also needs Britain, one of the few European nations able to lead large military missions, as a partner.
Fallon insisted however that Britain would continue to contribute to European defence as a member of NATO.
“We are leaving the European Union but we remain committed to the security of Europe and putting more troops into Estonia or Poland next year.”