Article by Mme Michèle Alliot-Marie, Minister of Defence, published in the “Le Monde” newspaper
“Quickening pace of Defence Europe”
According to a recent survey¹, 80% of Europeans would like our continent to have the capacity to deploy its defence forces independently of the United States. Without them necessarily realizing it, this wish is becoming a reality. Two weeks ago in Brussels, the 25 European Union defence ministers endorsed the deployment of a European force to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The objective : to help the smooth running of the presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for 30 July. Created at the request of the United Nations Secretary-General, this force will be made up of 1,500 soldiers from ten or so European countries, under German command.
Whatever people might think, since 2002, defence has been one of the areas in which the European Union has been most active, and it continues to make headway despite the difficulties resulting from the rejection of the European Constitutional Treaty last year. Besides the military operations in DRC, Macedonia and those still going on today in Bosnia, the European Union has undertaken security missions in countries in crisis such as the one at the Rafah crossing point (Palestinian Territories). It has responded to humanitarian crises, particularly in Aceh (Indonesia). It is playing a key role in helping the people of Darfur. To date, no fewer than 17 missions have been conducted within the European defence framework.
The operations are only the most visible part of this action. To be more effective by 2010, the Europeans must pool their assets. The tools exist : a rapid response capability comprising 18 battlegroups of 1,500 men provided by virtually all [EU] member countries is now available for European Union operations ; launched last year, the European Gendarmerie Force - currently bringing together five countries - is now operational ; there are, for instance, joint training programmes for helicopter pilots and training in the European College for Security and Defence (ECSD). Strategic transport, thanks to the “SALIS” [Strategic Air Lift Interim Solution] initiative, allows Europeans to have major capabilities at their disposal. For rapid response, in-depth discussions are under way on naval and air elements to complement the battlegroups’ land-based forces.
Europe must also develop its own capabilities. The European Defence Agency, created in 2004 and provided with its own budget, is developing a long-term strategy for this. Its goal : to enable the European Union to maintain its arms industry in the face of international competition through common research and technology projects modelled on the programmes launched over the past few years, such as the A400M military transport plane, NH90 transport helicopter, Tiger combat helicopter, Meteor missile, FREMM multimission frigates, UCAV demonstrators and - in the space sphere - Helios and Syracuse satellites.
The aim is not to claim that everything is perfect or that the European Union can now act alone, in every field and every sphere. Defence Europe complements the Atlantic Alliance. Some people continue to raise the spectre of competition between them, but that’s senseless. These two organizations have different structures and missions, but these complement each other. Whilst NATO was designed for high-intensity missions with our North American partners, the European Union is better equipped for short-duration missions, where the experience of human contact is essential. Similarly, these operations must be carried out at the request of international organizations - the United Nations or African Union, for example.
In a global context, with many security challenges, we need the European Union and NATO. Far from being an "official mantra", the two organizations’ complementary nature is genuine. By strengthening their defence capabilities Europeans will demonstrate their ability to fulfil their responsibilities in tomorrow’s multipolar world. By so doing they will also strengthen the Atlantic Alliance’s European pillar and the Europeans’ weight in this organization.
¹Europe and its defence capabilities in 2006, IPSOS poll, March 2006