Ukraine war, EU presidency bolsters French defense plans – EURACTIV.com

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The long-standing French goal of increasing European defense cooperation has been reinforced during Paris’s stint at the helm of the EU Council over the past six months, prompted by the war in Ukraine.

“Our goal must be Europe’s capacity for autonomous action, complementing NATO,” French President Emmanuel Macron said in his speech at the Sorbonne University in September 2017, which marked an important step. in Paris’ desire to strengthen the defense capabilities of the EU.

Macron then called for “a permanent structured cooperation, allowing to engage more, to move forward together and to coordinate better”.

Now, Paris’ six-month stint at the helm of the rotating EU Council presidency has been used by Macron to push forward European defense policy despite the reluctance of some EU governments – such as Berlin, according to the analysts.

“It was taboo”, testifies Cécilia Vidotto-Labastie, specialist in defense issues and researcher at the Institut Montaigne on the European defense debate.

While France has always pushed for proposals on defense “for which it has a long-term vision”, the French EU presidency has allowed the bloc to “define European defense itself” while the discussions on the subject were unthinkable just a few months ago, Vidotto-Labastie added.

For her, in terms of defence, the French presidency was an “accelerator”.

The Ukrainian Factor

But things wouldn’t have changed so quickly without Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The war has allowed the EU, under the French presidency, to make progress in the area of ​​defence, an EU diplomat told EURACTIV.

The arms deliveries to Ukraine were a “strong symbolic element”, which revealed a European “awareness”, he added.

Quickly drawing lessons from the Russian invasion of Ukraine, EU leaders agreed on March 11 in Versailles to “resolutely step up investment” in defense capabilities and “substantially increase” defense spending. throughout the block.

EU leaders pledged “to significantly increase defense spending”, strengthen cooperation on defense projects between member states and increase military mobility across the bloc.

According to the diplomat, the summit marked “an unprecedented geopolitical situation which led the EU to activate a real defense policy”. The EU will now “spend better” instead of “spend more”, he argued.

However, the details of these expenses remain to be clarified. Since France took over the EU Council on January 1, some EU countries – such as Belgium, Sweden and Germany – have announced increases in military spending for defense budgets to reach 2% of GDP, but this is a NATO requirement.

Joint stock replenishment?

According to the European diplomat, the countries of the bloc delivering arms to Ukraine would make it possible to concretize European industrial cooperation and lay the foundations for a concerted European industry. European arms stocks should be replenished “with purchases made on a European scale”.

The Elysée Palace, contacted by EURACTIV, also shares this opinion.

“The challenge is to strengthen the European defense industry in order to replenish stocks and modernize equipment,” he said.

NATO “more European than ever”

Recent polls suggest that the idea of ​​an integrated European army enjoys considerable public support in many EU member states.

However, European researchers and diplomats agree that the construction of European security cannot be done without NATO, and that there can be no question of replacing the Atlantic alliance with an independent “European army”.

“There is no desire to create a European army that would eclipse NATO,” said another EU diplomat.

This commitment to NATO is also included in the EU’s new 2022 Strategic Compass, which sets out the bloc’s defense and security ambitions until 2030.

“A stronger and more capable Union in the field of security and defense (…) is complementary to NATO, which remains the foundation of collective defense for its members,” the document reads.

Nevertheless, the EU “today more than ever is a major player in defense matters”, Vidotto-Labastie said.

As Sweden and Finland are on the verge of joining NATO, Vidotto-Labastie said the transatlantic alliance is “more European than ever” and far from “brain dead” as claimed. said Macron in December 2021.

European defense is considered, including by the French presidency of the EU, as a “complement to NATO”.

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