The U.K. is backing a French plan to create a European military intervention force as a way to maintain strong defense ties with the E.U. after Brexit, a minister told AFP on Saturday.
Junior defence minister Frederick Curzon said London was “very keen to support” French President Emmanuel Macron’s plan for a force that could be deployed rapidly to deal with crises.
The force, known as the European Intervention Initiative, would be separate from other E.U. defence cooperation, meaning there would be no obstacle to Britain taking part after it leaves the bloc.
Macron launched the project in September 2017, and October’s Strategic Review of Defense and National Security makes plain that the European Intervention Initiative is high on France’s agenda.
“We’re very keen to support President Macron in this initiative,” Curzon told AFP as he arrived for a meeting of E.U. defense ministers in Sofia.
“We look forward to sitting down with our French colleagues to work through the ideas that they have formulated for a more efficient and joined up security and defence system across Europe. We think it has a real part to play.”
Curzon, also the Earl Howe, is Minister of State for Defence and holds responsibility for E.U. relations, including Brexit.
Of the 27 post-Brexit E.U. members, 25 signed the PESCO defense pact on cooperation on various military projects in December, but it is not clear whether the U.K. would be allowed to take part in any of these after it leaves the union.
London has always resisted moves to create anything resembling an “E.U. army” but it has also stressed it wants to continue close security links with the E.U. after Brexit.
Curzon said the intervention initiative could play an important role in this.
“It certainly will help to achieve what we are looking for, which is a deep and special partnership with our European colleagues in defence and security,” he said.
European defense initiatives
The E.U. this week announced plans to spend nearly €20 billion ($24 billion) on defense in its budget for 2021-2027, most of which will be spent on research and development of new military technologies.
But December’s defense cooperation agreement, known by the acronym PESCO, did not yet go far enough for France because it did not include plans for an intervention force.
The E.U. has had four multinational military “battlegroups” since 2007, but political disagreements have meant the troops have never been deployed.
Paris hopes that by focusing on a smaller group of countries its new initiative will be able to take act more decisively, freed from the burdens that can hamper action by the 28-member E.U. and 29-member NATO.
“The initiative is a way of cooperating between countries with the right operational or support capacities and which are willing to use them wherever it seems necessary and useful,” French Defense Minister Florence Parly told AFP in Sofia.
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Parly held talks with E.U. foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini on the sidelines of Saturday’s meeting to explain the plan and to assure her it would not compete with PESCO. The French initiative has reportedly attracted interest from nine countries including Italy, Spain, Germany and Estonia, as well as Denmark, one of the two E.U. members that have not yet signed up to PESCO.
“We had to explain in concrete terms what it involves and reassure some of our partners about the way this initiative is being coordinated with everything the E.U. is in the process of doing,” she said.
France has been keen to build a multinational force that could intervene abroad as it did in Mali in 2013.
But Parly said that missions could also include evacuating nationals from hotspots, and that countries unwilling to commit troops to combat could contribute with logistics.
Parly told the Munich Security Conference in February that the planned force would be able to “respond to a threat in the E.U.’s immediate neighbourhood, particularly the south.”
The initiative stands outside PESCO, but Mogherini was at pains to stress that it would be complementary.
“There is full coordination, there is full coherence,” Mogherini said.
“What I see is the intention from the French side to make the future initiative they have in mind perfectly coherent with the work we’re doing on PESCO.”
With reporting from AFP