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European leaders renew commitment to common defence capability

By Ian Freeman and Melissa Wevers

The European Union is to increase its efforts to encourage defence collaboration among member states at a supranational level following a two-day summit in Brussels – the first to include discussions on joint military operations for five years. A statement issued by the European Council called for improvements in the EU’s rapid reaction capability including the development of collective ‘battle groups’ that could intervene in conflict zones.

The EU has already had two battalion-strength units training together for the last 10 years but they have never been deployed in a conflict. Defence policy had been forced down the political agenda in the face of tightening budgets in recent years. However, some member states including France in particular were pushing for the Common Security and Defence Policy to be strengthened.

The past six months have seen a series of CSDP discussions preparing the foundations for this week’s European Council meeting. On Wednesday, European Defence Agency chief executive Claude-France Arnould called on “EU heads of state to take defence to the next level”.

The EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton published a report in October outlining three broad priority areas for defence development; increasing the impact and visibility of the CSDP, improving operational effectiveness and further integration of the continent’s defence industrial base.

New guidelines for the development of EU defence policy will include the pooling of major military projects in areas such as satellite coordination, military drones, air-to-air refueling capacity and cyber defence. However, British Prime Minister David Cameron expressed caution. He warned against attempts to give the EU – rather than the North Atlantic treaty Organisation – a bigger role in military policy.

“It makes sense for nation states to co-operate over matters of defence to keep us all safer but it is not right for the EU to have capabilities, armies, air forces and the rest of it,” said Cameron. In contrast, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen – who also attended the talks – said, “I don’t see any contradiction between strengthened defence in Europe and a stronger NATO. We’re not talking about the EU possessing capabilities; there is a need for nations to do more to acquire much-needed military capabilities.”

Ian Freeman and Melissa Wevers are researchers at the Brussels communications firm ResEuropa – a Policy Review partner

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