France seeks to revitalise European defence

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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. 

The French EPP-ED memberr Alain Lamassoure lauded Sarkozy's initiative, saying he was "the first French President since 1958 who has understood that it is impossible to move forward with European defence against the US". 

He also stressed the necessity to get the UK on board as the ESDP would not be credible without the British capabilities. 

German Socialist MEP Helmut Kuhne, rapporteur of the Parliament resolution on ESDP, called for the current security strategy to be complemented with elements of "human security", such as the effects of climate change or the security of energy supply. 

"This new security concept is overdue. The times in which security is centered on national states and not on their citizens have to be finally over."  

The Polish Chairman of the Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committe and member of the Socialist group, Jacek Saryusy-Wolski, underlined the need to complement the EU's soft dimension 'with more of a hard dimension of strengthened ESDP and military capabilities" and with a more strategic long-term defintion of European interests, :addressing true causes and not only effects".

The German Chairman of the Parliament's Subcommittee on Security and Defence, EPP-ED member Karl von Wogau, stressed the need to put a larger focus on space policy as important dimension of the ESDP. 

The British Conservatives' spokesman on defence, MEP Geoffrey van Orden, heavily criticised the French initiative and Parliament's support for it, saying "we firmly oppose any moves to weaken the transatlantic alliance on which the security of the democracies ultimately depends". 

"There has never been any military reason for EU involvement in defence. It ignores NATO but seeks to mimic its role," van Orden pointed out. 

Furthermore, he considered the Parliament's report "a manifesto for an EU takeover of our armed forces", and said he was also "troubled by the idea that the arms trade should be surrendered to their [EU] control". 

"Britain is fortunate to possess the largest and most successful defence industry in Europe. Strategic industries and British jobs would be put at risk if the EU was allowed to bind us with more of its bureaucratic red tape."

Nick Whitney from the European Council on Foreign Relations was rather pessimistic about the potential achievements during the French Presidency, saying "it will definitely not have the scope of a second St. Malo". 

"We simply do not have enough sandwiches to have a good picnic," he said in reference to British unwillingness to fully commit to the project of European defence. But he sees room for improvement in the transatlantic relationship, saying Sarkozy's ambitious agenda was at least partly aiming to impress the next US president. 

Almost ten years have passed since France and the UK, the countries with the largest defence budget after the US (UK $55 billion and France $45 billion compared with US $535 billion, 2006 figures) gave birth to the European Security and Defence Policy with the now famous St. Malo Declaration

The 1998 declaration, written by then French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin and his UK counterpart Tony Blair, said: "The Union must have the capacity for autonomous action, backed up by credible military forces, the means to decide to use them and a readiness to do so, in order to respond to international crises."  

Both leaders also stressed the need for "strengthened armed forces that can react rapidly to the new risks, and which are supported by a strong and competitive European defence industry and technology". 

In March 2008, the new French and British leaders, President Nicolas Sarkozy and Prime Minister Gordon Brown, revived the traditional 'entente formidable' between their countries, stressing their "continuing common determination to play a leading role in defence and security" (EURACTIV 28/03/08)

They called "on all our European partners to take decisive steps to strengthen European military and civilian crisis management capabilities during the French Presidency of the EU". 

  • 1 July 2008: France takes over EU Presidency.
  • 2/3 Oct 2008: Informal defence minister meeting.
  • 15/16 Oct 2008: EU Summit.
  • 10 Nov 2008: Defence ministers meeting.
  • 11/12 Dec 2008: EU Summit. 

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