Saturday 17 August 2019

'Europe of defence is France's priority' - Macron calls for closer military ties

Sharp look: Pioneers of the Foreign Legion lead the regiment in Paris armed with their traditional axes. Photo: Reuters
Sharp look: Pioneers of the Foreign Legion lead the regiment in Paris armed with their traditional axes. Photo: Reuters

David Chazan

Emmanuel Macron presided over a show of European force at France's annual Bastille Day military parade yesterday, calling for a "Europe of defence" alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other European leaders.

The French president has argued for greater military co-operation in the bloc as the US cannot be relied upon to guarantee security under President Donald Trump.

"Never, since the end of World War II, has Europe been so important," Mr Macron said in a statement issued to mark July 14, the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille fortress and prison by revolutionary forces in 1789.

"The construction of a Europe of defence, in connection with the Atlantic Alliance is a priority for France. It is the theme of this parade," Mr Macron said.

The French president has promoted the European Intervention Initiative as a step towards the "true European army" which he says is needed.

The aim of the 10-country grouping is to undertake military missions outside existing structures such as Nato.

"Acting together and strengthening our ability to act collectively is one of the challenges that the European Intervention Initiative, along with other key European projects, wants to address," Mr Macron said.

He is maintaining his policy of tightening European defence co-operation despite Brexit, political turbulence in Germany and his recent disagreements with Ms Merkel over the nomination of senior EU officials. "Our security and our defence depend on Europe," he said.

Three British Chinook helicopters and a Eurofighter were among more than 100 aircraft from 10 EU countries that flew over Paris as soldiers, police and firefighters marched down the Champs-Élysées.

German, Spanish, Portuguese and Finnish soldiers also took part.

British Prime Minister Theresa May was represented by David Lidington, the Cabinet Office minister and de facto deputy, after she cancelled a plan to attend.

Those who attended the parade and a lunch at the Élysée Palace included Charles Michel, the Belgian prime minister and president-elect of the European Council, Jens Stoltenberg, secretary-general of Nato, Jean-Claude Juncker, the outgoing president of the European Commission and Antti Rinne, the prime minister of Finland.

Also, in Paris yesterday, police fired tear gas and detained at least 175 protesters, including two prominent members of the "yellow vest" movement.

The famed Fouquet's restaurant, trashed by the yellow vests in March, reopened yesterday, but had to barricade its windows as protesters clashed with police after the parade.

Some 5,000 police were deployed across France amid memories of the 2016 Bastille Day terror attack in Nice.

France's BFM television showed images of police firing tear gas to disperse the protesters, some hooded and trying to block the road with metal barricades, dustbins and other debris.

Several loud bangs could be heard. Protesters hurled objects at the police, booed and set bins on fire. Police drove some of the demonstrators to adjacent streets where they regrouped and set up new barricades, drawing more tear gas fire. The Police Prefecture said on Twitter it had ordered the protesters to leave the area or be forcibly removed.

The number of "yellow vest" protesters has dwindled to a few hundred over the past weeks from a high of around 300,000 nationwide in November when demonstrations started against fuel price hikes and later morphed into general discontent against Macron's government.

Paris authorities had banned all "yellow vest" demonstrations near the parade and few of the protesters wore the high-visibility jackets that give their movement its name.

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