by Nathan Gain and Christina Mackenzie
“A Europe that protects is a Europe that defends – at home and abroad,” declared this morning Jean-Claude Juncker, European Commission president, in his first State of the Union speech since Britain’s Brexit referendum. Addressing the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, Juncker said that Europe “needs to toughen up” its defence policy, notably by creating a European military headquarters. Brexit could even accelerate the process given that the British have always been dead set against the idea of a single military HQ.
Reminding the parliamentarians that over the last 10 years, the EU has taken part in more than 30 military and civilian missions, Juncker stressed that “without a permanent structure we cannot act effectively.” His declaration that “we must have a single headquarters within the EU” was much applauded by the auditorium.
The Commission President declared that the EU must “move towards common military assets, in some cases owned by the EU, and fully complementary with NATO,” hastening to add that “more European defence does not means less Transatlantic defence and solidarity.”
These projects would structure and rationalise the myriad of multilateral military units that already exist such as the Eurocorps, the EU Battlegroups and the Finabel Committee.
At no point in his speech did Juncker mention the possible consequences Brexit might have on European defence. Totally excluding the United Kingdom would mean turning away from the only EU country which, with France, has a nuclear deterrent capability and an operational joint planification capacity. Without forgetting that Paris and London together account for 50% of Europe’s military spending.
Juncker’s speech was an echo to the recent joint declaration by the French and German defence ministers in which they called on the Commission and the European Defence Agency to “stimulate defence cooperation between the Member states by way of appropriate incentives including fiscal measures which would not distort the market.“
Torn between a latent economic crisis and a desire to increase their military budgets, European nations must work more closely together. “The lack of cooperation in defence matters costs Europe between €25 billion and €100 billion per year, depending on the areas concerned.” Juncker noted, calling on Member States to pool their defence capabilities. “For European defence to be strong, the European defence industry needs to innovate,” he remarked, adding that before the end of the year the EU would propose setting up a European Defence Fund, “to turbo boost research and innovation.”