Giving a boost to the European Defence and Security Policy (ESDP) features high on the agenda of the French Presidency, with the chances of substantial progress high due to France's role as a leading European military power.
Addressing the assembly of the Western European Union (WEU) on 2 June, Jean-Pierre Jouyet, the French Secretary of State for EU affairs, called for a "new political vision" for the ESDP and prioritised the following five goals in order to "revitalise" it:
Develop and update the 2003 European Security Strategy (ESS)
This task is seen as essential given the new emerging threats, such as food and energy security, climate change, illegal migration, information security, non-proliferation and cyberdefence. It appears possible that an updated strategy will be presented as early as the EU Summit in December, given the support from member states.
According to defence scholars, it is only a question of the final wording of the text. The European Parliament has also backed the French initiative, adopting a report yesterday (5 June) which called upon the High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana, to "assess in a White Paper the progress made, and any shortcomings, in the implementation of the ESS since 2003".
Strengthen civil and military capabilities
Priority is on developing a European carrier task force based on British and French aircraft carriers and a common fleet of A400-M airplanes for strategic transport. Critical capability shortfalls also exist regarding the deployment of helicopters in operations.
Sarkozy and Brown ranked this issue very highly during the French President's visit to the UK this March and Parliament also picked up on this in a report by its rapporteur on the issue, German Socialist MEP Helmut Kuhne.
Permanent Structured Cooperation (PSC)
The establishment of permanent structured cooperation between member states that fulfill higher criteria and have made larger commitments on military capabilities has already been foreseen in the ill-fated European Constitution and is now to be anchored in the Lisbon Treaty.
Any EU country wishing to participate must notify its intention to the Council of Foreign Affairs Ministers. A European decision must then establish this cooperation within three months, determining the list of participating Member States by a qualified majority.
It is possible for member states to join or withdraw from cooperation at a later stage. Furthermore, a country may be suspended if the Council decides it no longer fulfils the criteria.
This provision undoubtedly constitutes a major advance compared with the current provisions in the EU Treaty on the CFSP.
Jouyet said that France would start the debate on the conditions for its implementation, but that in any event these provisions would not be implemented before 2009. Smaller member states fear that PSC could lead to a "core Europe" built around the "big four" – Germany, France, Italy and the UK.
Stimulate the European defence equipment market
France wants to reach agreement on the defence package brought forward by the Commission last November in order to stimulate the market for European defence equipment, in particular through the European Defence Agency (EDA).
The proposed new legislation should contribute to "creating a genuine European market in this sector without sacrificing member states' control over their essential defence and security interests," the Commission said.
Sarkozy and Brown expressed their hope that this would "pave the way for increasing industrial cooperation and optimising supply chains" and make a "crucial contribution to a more competitive European industrial and technological defence industrial base".
Improved EU-NATO relations
In August 2007, French President Nicolas Sarkozy called for a "renovation" of relations with NATO, announcing plans to return his country to within the military command structure of NATO, which then President Charles de Gaulle gave the order to leave in 1966.
This move was seen as attempt to warm relations with the US, which have been frosty under Sarkozy's predecessor Jacques Chirac. Scholars even foresee the possibility of a dramatic improvement in EU-NATO co-operation.
Sarkozy indicated at the recent NATO Summit in Bucharest that the date of France's return would fall under the French Presidency.