A Sight on European Defence

The UK-France summit of 2nd November 2011 has been presented as a major step forward as for bi-lateral cooperation in defence and security issues refers. Indeed, it is, as both countries say in a common declaration, “the UK and France are natural partners in security and defence. As permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, NATO Allies, European Union members, and Nuclear Weapons States, [they] share many common interests and responsibilities”. Following this preamble, they express their strong links, as “[they] do not see situations arising in which the vital interests of either nation could be threatened without the vital interests of the other also being threatened”.

Some rather bold decisions bold decisions follow: strong cooperation in training, procurement, aircraft carriers and deterrence. For some more details, it would be better to read the complete declaration on British Prime Minister website.

Should we see include in this declaration a step forward for European Defence? For sure not.

Firstly, the UK and France simply “encourage all European Union members to develop their military, civilian, and civilian-military capabilities, so that European countries can become more effective at delivering security and responding to crises”. Doing this, they do not commit themselves to reinforce European Defence, or at least the institutional side of this idea, as they just encourage the Member States to do some efforts.

Secondly, NATO will remain the cornerstone of collective defence, and not the Lisbon Treaty.

Thirdly, in contrary to some of the NATO pillars (I think about Germany), both countries declare that NATO nuclear capability is the basis of the alliance.

Fourthly, they fully anti-ballistic missile defence if Russia is associated. Europe would be unable to implement such a decision yet.

Last point is expressed by the pictures taken at the occasion: none of them shows the European flag, in opposition to the usual pictures presenting the President of the French Republic. Every detail is taken into account to show that this is a pure bilateral agreement, not aiming in reinforcing the European Defence. You can see here below, on this official picture taken out of the 10 Downing Street website:

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  1. I think you are too negative in your interpretation. The absence of any reference to the EU defense cooperation was a condition for Cameron to sign such a Treaty. This treaty is already far beyond what people were expecting. The negotiations were kept secret and the details just appeared the day of the signature. It was a “fait accompli”. Any reference to the EU would have made it it impossible for Cameron to sell it to its Eurosceptic MPs and to the Europhobic conservative press.

    Does it mean it is bad for Europe? I don’t think so.

    For the UK: As Nick Robinson from the BBC rightly said. Once Cameron has made this important step, it will be easier for other British PMs to make further incremental steps.

    For France: Back in France, the EU flag can be put back behind the French President and there is no real reason for him not to work for further European integration. This bilateral agreement may make European integration less urgent right now, but it should not impair French commitment in the long run.

  2. I fully support your points. All of them. From the French side, i know that they are extremely disappointed by the failure of the institutional side of European Defence. May be the operation in Chad has proved that a bi-lateral approach was a better way ahead.
    Regarding the future steps forward, there are three hypothesis: either the UK finally gets closer to French views on the issue, or there might be as well a French belief that they could indirectly link the UK to European Defence. Latest hypothesis: the French want to show their usual partners, like Germany that they should start moving in order not to be left aside.

  3. Thanks for your answer! And thanks to your very interesting blog by the way.

    I am pretty sure that it will take a long time for Britain to think positively about a European Defence. This new Treaty with France has only been possible due to the budget cuts and the coalition with the LibDems. The reactions from the mainstream media (and not only the right wing press) was quite telling of a status anxiety.

    In France, things are not that simple either. The French public and the media would be much more supportive of a European army than in Britain. Broadly speaking from the center left (PS-Greens) to the center right (democrats, part of the conservative UMP) there would be a political majority for big steps towards more integration in the area of defence.

    However, whilst French Presidents are aware of the gains from a collective European defence, they are reluctant to give away their status as a mid-sized international power and as a local leader in Europe. French politicians may also be wary of losing the ability to play a military role in their post-colonial sphere of influence (though this motive may be less important now after several failures including the Rwanda).

    I am interested to see how Sarkozy will react to the Polish ambitions for deeper integration in the European defence. My gut feeling is that it will take another French president for ground breaking decisions to be made. Sarkozy is not likely to accept to fully share his toys with Germany and other countries.

    The election of Strauss-Kahn in 2012 could change things quite a lot. More pro-European, he would be more likely to pursue plans for a collective European Defence. In addition, any new French president is likely to have a better relation with the German chancellor than Sarkozy.

    Finally, I wonder whether, unlike Sarkozy, Strauss-Kahn could have in the back of his mind to finish his career as a European President. This could soften his national motives…

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