We won't be part of any EU army, says Flanagan
Government ministers have distanced Ireland from the formation of a European army, despite reports that such proposals are being devised at senior EU level.
It has been claimed that a major military plan - which could eventually lead to the displacement of Nato - is being drafted to capitalise on the "political space" left by Brexit.
Federica Mogherini, the EU's foreign policy chief, is said to be preparing to forward a timetable setting out steps to create EU military structures "to act autonomously" from Nato.
The senior diplomat reportedly told colleagues that the military plan - billed by some countries as the foundation of a "European army" - represented a chance for the EU to relaunch itself after the "shocking" Brexit vote.
"We have the political space today to do things that were not really doable in previous years," Ms Mogherini told EU ambassadors. A timetable for the plan is set to be discussed at a meeting of 27 EU leaders - excluding British Prime Minister Theresa May - at a summit in Bratislava on September 16. Taoiseach Enda Kenny will represent Ireland at the talks.
But senior Government figures in Dublin last night moved to distance Ireland from the prospect of such an army. Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan rejected suggestions such an army would be formed.
"There is no provision in the EU treaties for creation of an EU-wide army," Mr Flanagan told the Irish Independent.
His remarks were echoed by Paul Kehoe, Minister of State with responsibility for defence.
"Defence policy is a national competency and the EU is not involved in its formation," a spokeswoman for Mr Kehoe said. "There is no provision for the creation of a European army. Any move towards a common defence requires a unanimous decision of member states. This is affirmed by a protocol to the Lisbon Treaty, secured by Ireland. Ireland's traditional policy of military neutrality continues and remains unaffected."
According to reports, the military plan foresees countries such as France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Poland creating permanent military structures to act on behalf of the EU.
It could also comprise an EU military planning and operations headquarters in Brussels that could be a rival to Nato. Last week, the Czech Republic and Hungary backed the plan as the basis for "setting up a joint European army".
The idea has also reportedly been backed by Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who is pushing for more defence co-operation, according to an article in 'La Repubblica'.
His ideas, which are mirrored in the EU plans, include exempting defence equipment manufacturers from paying VAT and applying EU research grants to the sector - a move that could conflict with EU Treaty restrictions on using the EU budget for military expenditures.
UK governments have previously opposed the creation of a fully-fledged European army but the European Commission, France, Germany and Italy see Brexit as a new chance to press ahead with deeper EU military integration.
Nato officials have expressed concerns the proposals will create rivalry and challenge the alliance's primacy as the main defence structure across Europe.