PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron called for a “real European army” to allow the bloc to defend itself against Russia and even the United States, a hugely sensitive idea amongst EU nations which jealously guard their defence.
Macron, who has pushed for a joint European Union military force since his arrival in power, said Europe needed to be less dependent on American might, not least after US President Donald Trump announced he was pulling out of a Cold War-era nuclear treaty. “We have to protect ourselves with respect to China, Russia and even the United States,” Macron told Europe 1 in his first radio interview since becoming president in May 2017. “We will not protect Europeans unless we decide to have a true European army.”
Macron has spearheaded the creation of a nine-country European force, independent from NATO, that could rapidly mount a joint military operation, evacuate civilians from a war zone, or provide aid after a natural disaster. The nine countries’ defence ministers are set to meet for the first time on Wednesday in Paris to start thrashing out details of how the force will operate.
Finland is set to become the tenth country involved in the project, according to a source close to the talks. The wider EU is due to vastly expand its defence budget starting in 2021, allocating some 13 billion euros ($15 billion) over seven years to research and develop new equipment.
Under an initiative known as PESCO, 25 EU countries have also pledged to better coordinate their defence spending and potentially their operations.
But talk of an “EU army”, an idea floated by European federalists for years, remains a deeply touchy subject amongst member states anxious to defend their sovereignty. A French source said Macron was speaking about more closely coordinated defence rather than a truly supranational military spanning the continent. The president “used the strong image of a ‘European army’ as a reminder” of the need for closer defence ties, the source said.
European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said that the EU backed “a more meaningful and assertive defence identity” but that this cooperation should start with joint research and procurement. “I don’t think this defence identity will start with an EU army,” he said.