Friday, 15 Oct 2021

Macron’s EU army plot sparks Merkel’s suspicion over bid to take UK’s spot in EU

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The French President has longed for more military autonomy for the bloc since his ascent to power in 2017. Mr Macron’s vision is for the EU to have a clear defence identity within NATO, pushing for greater European military spending.

In 2019, the French leader said NATO was “brain dead” and that the EU needed to step up its game when it comes to security.

But the idea is raising concerns among Angela Merkel’s CDU circles as they see the French leader’s grand plan as an attempt to dominate in the EU now that Brexit Britain has left the bloc.

One senior French government official told Head of Eurasia Group, Mujtaba Rahman: “Macron may be right to put defence and increased military spending at the heart of his argument for a stronger and more political Europe, but it’s inevitably seen in other capitals —especially Berlin — as a crafty way of putting France at the centre of the top table.”

And even with Ms Merkel leaving the German political scene in September, her potential successors are indeed still unlikely to embrace Mr Macron’s ideas.

When it comes to defence and security, the two leaders have already locked horns on a cross-country project for a new Combat Jet.

Costing more than 100 billion euros, the Future Combat Air System (FCAS) brings together Germany, France and Spain to forge an array of weapons amid deepening European defence cooperation.

The German Chancellor and French President kicked off the ambitious venture in 2017, when the EU was rattled by Britain’s decision to leave the bloc and deeply divided over other issues such as the migrant crisis.

But some sources close to the project have warned the plans have become tangled in suspicion and divergences between Berlin and Paris.

At the beginning of February, Ms Merkel and President Macron failed to settle the issue, leaving open when the next tranche of payments of at least €5 billion can be released, insiders said.

The FCAS is not the only defence project the two EU leaders are clashing on at the moment.

The French President and the German Chancellor are also on bad terms when it comes to the tank of the future MGCS, the Tiger helicopter, the Eurodrone, the aircraft of maritime or space patrol.

A high-level French official admitted to French daily L’Opinion: “It’s a bit difficult time.”

Mr Macron’s comments on NATO’s “brain death”, coupled with his decision to seek more cooperation with Russian President Vladimir Putin, had caused consternation among some European allies, especially in eastern Europe, which sees the United States as the only credible protection from neighbouring Russia.

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The so-called EU army does not exist at the moment, with military powers organised individually by the 27 EU member states.

Last month, the EU approved a €5 billion defence project that will open the door for the bloc to deliver military aid to countries across the world, sparking a row in the European Parliament.

The plan has been called European Peace Facility (EPF) and will “better help partner countries” by supporting their peace-keeping operations and by helping them to “increase the capability of their armed forces to ensure peace and security on their national territory”, the EU has claimed.

The bloc plans to use the money to finance its missions and operations under the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy, as well as infrastructure and military equipment for partner countries.

They said: “These measures may include supplying military and defence related equipment, infrastructure or assistance, at the request of third countries or regional or international organisations. The assistance measures will be embedded in a clear and coherent political strategy and will be accompanied by thorough risk assessments and strong safeguards.”

The project will be financed through contributions from EU member states and endowed with €5billion until 2027.

But to approve the proposal the new EPF has been kept separate from the EU’s main seven-year budget to circumvent the bloc’s rules against spending its budget on weapons.

It split MEPs in the European Parliament who say a compliance framework needs to be put in place as they worry paying for arms could be a sensitive issue for some member states.

MEP David McAllister (EPP), chair of the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee (AFET) told EURACTIV: “The European Peace Facility fills a gap in the EU’s external action capacity to act.

“It creates a single instrument for the comprehensive financing of all Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) in military and defence areas.”

According to him, this would allow for “more flexibility, enhanced support to CSDP missions and peace support operations conducted by the EU’s partners in support of shared security objectives”.

He added: “Generally, the European Peace Facility must be conducted under a robust framework of compliance, risk analysis and control measures. As the European Parliament, we expect the Council and the High Representative to keep us fully informed on a regular basis.”

Brussels said that this new instrument, the EU can “broaden its geographical scope” by contributing to “the financing of military peace support operations and assistance measures for our partners anywhere in the world.”

The bloc also says the mechanism is needed to make its training missions in three African countries more effective and to enable it to contribute to peacekeeping efforts elsewhere in the world.

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