EU army plans ramped up as Brussels concerns grow after Afghanistan farce

Macron criticised over push for EU army by Italian MEP

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EU single market commissioner Thierry Breton, who is responsible for defence industry issues, said that common defence was “no longer optional” and that Brussels must become capable of launching military missions in “full autonomy”. The US-led exit from Afghanistan has sparked fresh concern within Europe over how reliant the bloc is on Washington to ensure member states’ security at home and abroad. EU nations were powerless to continue their evacuation efforts from Kabul after the US pulled its troops from the international airport.

This has sparked debates within EU institutions about what the bloc can do to ensure its 27 members can stand on their own as a military power.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has even been pushing the concept of an EU rapid response force as the first step in the creation of a genuine Brussels-led army.

EU defence ministers meet in Slovenia this week to discuss the so-called “strategic compass” document that will list the bloc’s military threats and ambitions for the coming years

The hope is to have a draft dossier drawn up by November and the final version released at the start of next year.

Earlier this year, 14 EU nations, including Germany and France, revived the concept of 5,000-person brigades.

Mr Borrell told an Italian newspaper: “The EU must be able to intervene to protect our interests when the Americans don’t want to be involved.

“If there is no unanimity, sooner or later a group of countries will decide to go ahead on their own as they won’t accept to be stopped.”

Genuine changes to EU foreign policy requires all 27 member states to give their consent, meaning it has been impossible to form a genuine military.

Some eastern countries believe that the bloc can not create a defence coalition that will not hinder the US-led Nato alliance.

Last week European Council President Charles Michel said developing the EU’s military capabilities is “of the utmost importance for the future of Europe”.

And yesterday the bloc’s most senior official said EU states must take action to be better prepared for military evacuations if similar situations to Afghanistan occur in the future.

“In my view, we do not need another geopolitical event to grasp that the EU must strive for greater decision-making autonomy and greater capacity for action in the world,” he told the Bled Strategic Forum in Slovenia.

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His intervention came after EU nations were left scrambling to get their citizens out of Kabul after the Afghan capital fell to the Taliban.

Their efforts were reliant on the US military to protect and keep the international airport running during the evacuations.

In 1999 the EU agreed on a common defence policy that included building up battle groups of between 50,000-60,000 troops.

Eight years just two national battle groups of 1,500 troops had been developed, which have never been deployed.

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France and the Netherlands are two EU countries that have renewed their interest in the bloc developing “strategic autonomy” on military issues.

In a joint statement, the two nations said they “recognise that Europe must prove resilient and capable of taking more responsibility for its security and defence by allocating the resources necessary”.

An EU Commission insider told the Financial Times that having a 5,000-strong Brussels-led unit could have made a huge difference in Kabul.

The official said: “Look at the number of US troops to secure Kabul airport: around 5,000.

“Look at the number of troops that the French have in Operation Barkhane in Sahel: 5,000-6,000 people.

“This is a number that can make a big difference in a number of difference situations.”

The insider suggested an EU initiative was about ensuring the bloc has a stake in emerging areas of security that are not always covered by Nato cooperation.

“This is about getting access to global commons – cyber, space and maritime… here we really want the EU to play a bigger role.”

Mr Breton has stressed any EU-wide force should not be seen as a replacement for Nato but rather a complimentary asset.

“We understand our allies will be much more focused on China, Asia maybe,” he said.

“We learnt the hard way, including with that happened in Afghanistan, that one way or the other we have to enhance our global solidarity of defence.”

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