Germany and France lead calls for greater EU unity on defence
The defence ministers of Germany and France pledged to redouble their military and foreign policy co-operation efforts yesterday, inviting other European countries to participate if they felt ready to do so.
In a speech to the Munich Security Conference, German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen said Europe's countries would not be able to respond nimbly enough to global challenges if they were stymied by the need to decide joint foreign policy approaches unanimously.
"Europe has to up its pace in the face of global challenges from terrorism, poverty and climate change," she said. "Those who want to must be able to advance without being blocked by individual countries."
Her French counterpart, Florence Parly, said any such deepened co-operation would be complementary to the Nato alliance, which itself was based on the principle that members contributed differently depending on their capacities.
"The reality has always been that some countries are by choice more integrated and more able to act than others," she said.
The push comes as Germany's political class reluctantly concedes it must play a larger security role to match its economic pre-eminence in Europe, amid fears the European Union is unable to respond effectively to security concerns beyond its eastern and southern borders.
But in their deal for another four years of a "grand coalition" government, Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives and the Social Democrats have agreed to boost spending on the armed forces after years of post-Cold War decline.
The deal, which must still be ratified by the Social Democrat membership, comes as Germany reluctantly takes on the role of the continent's pre-eminent political power-broker, a role generations of post-war politicians have shied away from.
Days after US Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis reiterated President Donald Trump's demand that European countries spend more on their militaries, Ms Von der Leyen pledged to spend more on its military and the United Nations, but called in return for other countries not to turn away from multilateralism.
The pledges come as the EU seeks a new basis on which to co-operate with Britain, traditionally one of the continent's leading security players, after its vote to leave the EU.