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Defense Europe

Published on June 3, 2013
Speech by M. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister of Defense (excerpts)

Brussels, May 15, 2013


I’d like to talk to you today about a subject which I, as Defence Minister and a staunch European, feel particularly strongly about: Defence Europe.

France has just adopted a new White Paper, validated in the last few days by the President. Four points deserve particular attention. First of all, despite budget difficulties, the President wanted to maintain the level of national effort and the scope of our defence tool. This is a strong decision. Secondly, we’re maintaining our defence policy’s fundamental threefold approach: protection of our people, nuclear deterrence and overseas intervention. Moreover, we’re maintaining our sovereignty through the existence of the French and European defence industry. Finally, we’re setting the goal of pragmatically revitalizing Defence Europe.

I’m talking about Defence Europe and not European defence, out of realism. The latter – more incantatory – concept has never produced tangible results. Personally, the Defence Europe concept seems distinctly more pragmatic to me. It’s a more humble approach. But if we want it to take on some form of reality, we’ve got to abandon ideological positions and act concretely as two, three, five, 27 – indeed soon as 28 – in line with the possibilities on offer to us and the opportunities we’re able to seize.

I want to believe this because, quite objectively, we don’t have a choice. This is why France intends to continue actively promoting the strengthening of Defence Europe. Even though in the past some of our partners may have perceived such an ambition as utopian – dogmatic, even –, this goal is imperative for us today, more than ever, because it’s a historical necessity.

What guides this necessity, firstly, is the rebalancing of US defence policy. Europeans must grasp their responsibility in the face of the United States’ pivot strategy.

The second [factor of this] necessity is various [member states’] budget constraints, which restrict developments of capabilities with, at times, heavy and significant cuts – with a few exceptions. There’s a clear need for pooling, sharing and finding points of coherence. Otherwise Europe will drop a notch in strategic terms. This would be a terrible relinquishment.

Thirdly, the threats and risks are genuinely permanent: the southern arc, fragility in the east and globalization, with flows of terrorists, gangsterism linked to drugs and religious fundamentalism becoming more widespread. (...)

Even though security and defence issues are at the heart of its mandate, the European Council has made no statement on these issues since December 2008. I don’t understand it.

Today, we are in a situation which is conducive to injecting new momentum into building Defence Europe. We intend to take full advantage of the December 2013 meeting which President Van Rompuy proposed last year. It’s a strong political signal. This opportunity must be grasped.

Let’s begin by being pragmatic in the operational field. The European Union urgently needs to get round to implementing a genuine comprehensive approach to crisis management. I want to say this forcefully here: this won’t be possible until the European institutions are able to adapt and optimize their way of working, to end the institutional compartmentalization which persists between the Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS) and hinders the swift, coherent, effective mobilization of all the EU’s instruments.

For over a year, France has continuously drawn her partners’ attention to the dangerous security situation in Mali. The facts haven’t contradicted us, and have justified our national intervention. Today we’ve entered a stabilization phase. The setting-up of EUTM Mali proved to be effective but took a particularly long time, even though it’s only a military training mission. Moreover, the EUTM mission isn’t the only response to the Mali crisis. Europe has the advantage of proposing comprehensive solutions, as it is demonstrating today, for example, in the framework of the Mali development conference.

Elsewhere, we also have to make headway on capabilities. We’re doing so with the British. But projects can be open to two, three or more states willing to participate. With political will, and without calling states’ sovereignty into question, we can press forward with several concrete, straightforward issues such as logistic air transport. The EATC [European Air Transport Command] functioned in Mali. These mechanisms can be open to other states and other fields. I’m thinking in particular of in-flight refuelling and space.

Finally, as regards industry, I’m convinced of the need to maintain the European Defence Technological and Industrial Base. (...)./.

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