Europe is planning to forge ahead with plans for an EU Army that some fear could eventually displace Nato, with senior officials in Brussels urging EU member states to capitalise on the “political space” left by Britain’s decision to vote to leave.
Federica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign policy chief, is preparing to forward a timetable setting out steps to create EU military structures “to act autonomously” from NATO.
We have the political space today to do things that were not really doable in previous yearsEU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini
Europe’s top 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, according to a report in The Times.
The military plan foresees countries such as France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Poland creating permanent military structures to act on behalf of the EU and for the deployment of the EU’s battle groups and 18 national battalions.
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 to “setting up a joint European army.”
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The idea has also reportedly been backed by Matteo Renzi, the Italian prime minister, 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 which could conflict with EU Treaty restrictions on using EU budget for military expenditures.
A timetable for the plan will be discussed at a meeting of 27 EU leaders — excluding Theresa May — at a summit in Bratislava on 16 September.
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 that the proposals will create rivalry and challenge the alliance’s primacy as the main defence structure.
Conservative MEP Geoffrey Van Orden, his party’s defence spokesman, said that the “worrying” implications of the EU’s defence ambitions were being overlooked in the debate on Brexit and the UK’s future relationship to the EU.
“We can all see that the EU might play a useful role in conflict prevention and in some civil aspects of crisis management. But its ambitions go beyond that. The EU motive is not to create additional military capability but to achieve defence integration as a key step on the road to a federal EU state.
“The US and indeed the UK are being misled if they imagine that such moves will enhance Nato – the key guarantor of our collective defence. On the contrary, creation of EU defence structures, separate from Nato, will only lead to division between transatlantic partners at a time when solidarity is needed in the face of many difficult and dangerous threats to the democracies.”
Mike Hookem, UKIP defence spokesman, said that his party had been warning about the dangers posed by the EU army concept for years.
“I’m pleased to see people are finally waking up. An EU army is not some Eurosceptic fantasy, there are many in Brussels hell-bent on making it happen.”