French EU presidency wants EU closer to NATO

The French EU presidency is to put forward a security package at the December summit aimed at relaunching the European security and defence policy (ESDP) with strong links to NATO, many measures of which were outlined at a Brussels conference on defence on Monday (15 September).

From logistical shortcomings such as aircraft interoperability to stalled national investments for defence and the political "gulf" between NATO and the EU, the current ESDP has a number of areas that are "not satisfactory", Lieutenant General Patrick de Rousiers, France's military representative to the EU, said during the conference organised by Security and Defence Agenda, a Brussels based think-tank. The meeting was laying out the security and defence priorities for Europe during the France's chairmanship of the six-month rotating EU presidency.

At the December EU summit, France will present a series of concrete measures in order to address these shortcomings, including the launch of joint military European training courses modelled on the Erasmus Programme - the civilian university student exchange system.

The EU presidency also hopes to win approval for the establishment of a European Security and Defence College, as well as greater levels of interoperability between the European aircraft producers and the development of a joint UK-French initiative to improve helicopter capabilities. The latter proposal comes in response to difficulties experienced by the EU's mission in Chad in getting enough helicopters on the ground, Mr de Rousiers said.

At the conference, Air Commodore Bob Tizard, the UK's deputy military representative to the EU, highlighted the need for member states to participate equally in "burden sharing", complaining that currently almost 40 percent of the deployable forces for EU missions are put forward by the UK and France alone.

These two countries are also the only ones to over two per cent of their gross domestic product on defence, with other EU countries averaging one percent or less.

"This is not burden sharing," said Mr Tizard, adding that he wondered "whether the events in Georgia will change defence spending in some countries."

Turkey not in favour of EU-NATO high-level group

France would also like to see the establishment of a high-level group between the EU and NATO, an idea that prompted criticism from a Turkish Foreign Ministry official present at the debate, Tomur Bayer.

"Coming from a non-EU country, we are a bit unable to understand the merit of this proposal. As we know, the two secretaries general do meet regularly and they are accompanied by their close advisers. So what is the essence of this proposal? Do we want to underline that the secretary generals meet? They meet already. That they should be accompanied by their aides? They already are," Mr Bayer said.

France's military representative replied: "The more we meet, the better it is," and maintained that the move is a "needed step" for the two bodies to work more closely.

A similar position was outlined by the UK's deputy permanent representative to NATO, Paul Flaherty, who said: "One of the main weaknesses of ESDP throughout the international community is the connection between the S and the D – security and defence."

"We have a situation in which very rarely do we have security and defence policies mapped out and pushing in the same direction. We need to do better in terms of NATO interlinked to the EU and the UN," he added.

Veronique Roger-Lacan, of the French Ministry of Defence, also said that this link between security and defence is very much an "aim" of the French presidency, while conceding that in terms of what can be delivered, "We are in the hands of member states" who need to reach consensus in order to adopt the French proposals.

[Source: Euobserver, Brussels, 16Sep08]

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