Tue, Nov 14, 2017 - Page 7 News List

EU signing landmark defense accord

INTEGRATION:Brexit has paved the way for 22 EU member states to set up a formal club that should give the bloc a more coherent role in tackling international crises

Reuters, BRUSSELS

France, Germany and 20 other EU governments were yesterday set to sign a to sign a defense pact they hope would mark a new era of European military integration to cement unity after Britain’s decision to quit the bloc.

In Europe’s latest attempt to lessen its reliance on the US, the 22 governments were to create a formal club that should give the EU a more coherent role in tackling international crises.

“We’ve never come this far before,” a senior EU official said of the union’s defense integration efforts that date back to a failed bid in the 1950s. “We are in a new situation.”

The election of pro-European Emmanuel Macron as France’s president and warnings by US President Donald Trump that European allies must pay more toward their security have propelled the project forward, diplomats said.

EU foreign and defense ministers were expected to sign the pact at about 10:30 GMT in Brussels, and EU leaders to back it next month to make it EU law.

A system to spot weaknesses across EU armed forces, in coordination with US-led NATO, is due to start in a pilot stage, while a multibillion-euro EU fund to support the pact is still under negotiation.

Long blocked by Britain, which feared the creation of an EU army, defense integration was revived by France and Germany after Britons voted to leave the EU in June last year.

It follows years of spending cuts that have left European military forces short of vital assets.

They struggled in military and humanitarian missions in the Balkans, Libya and in Africa over the past 20 years and were caught off guard by Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.

Aside from Denmark, which has opted out of all EU defense, only Austria, Poland, Ireland and Malta have yet to decide whether to join the pact.

London is not part of the initiative, but British officials have been pressing for third country involvement. Britain’s aerospace industry and its biggest defense firm, BAE Systems, fear losing out, diplomats said.

Britain may be able to join in, but only on an exceptional basis if it provides substantial funds and expertise.

Despite the broad show of support, France and Germany also have differences over what the club should seek to achieve.

Paris originally wanted a vanguard of EU countries to bring money and assets to French-led military missions and projects.

Berlin has sought to be more inclusive, saying even the smallest EU nation may have expertise to offer.

Some officials are wary that approach could reduce effectiveness.

Proposals include work on a European medical command, a network of logistic hubs in Europe, creation of a European Crisis Response center and joint training of military officers.

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