May 24. 2024. 5:15

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Czech president: EU army no longer in Macron’s mind


European defence is not about declaring that we have an EU army, Czech President-elect Petr Pavel said, suggesting that even French President Emmanuel Macron changed his mind and admitted the need to strengthen the European pillar of NATO instead of creating a joint EU army.

According to Pavel, who will be officially inaugurated on 9 March, the EU is leading in support of Ukraine but is still not capable of taking a leading role in defence.

“European defence – I spoke about this in Munich with President Macron – is not about declaring that we have a European army or EU army,” Pavel told a small group of EU stakeholders and journalists – including EURACTIV Czechia – in Prague.

“There has already been a big shift by President Macron – from the European army, he was talking about years ago, against the backdrop of NATO’s brain-deadness, to now saying we need to build European defence based on the European pillar of NATO, which I applaud. It is a reasonable shift,” Pavel said.

Still, in speeches he delivered before meeting with Pavel, the French president stressed Europe’s need for a NATO-independent command.

“If tomorrow a major partner has to look elsewhere, we must be able to act with the Europeans inside or outside NATO and, if necessary, to ensure the command capabilities that will allow us to carry out a large-scale operation together,” Macron told the armed forces on 20 January.

However, EURACTIV was informed that for France, it is important to keep its military equipment and technologies interoperable with those of the US, which means that NATO is a crucial element for France despite previous comments by Macron.

US attention to switch to Pacific

Both leaders – Pavel and Macron – warn that the US will very soon turn its attention not to Europe but to the Pacific.

Pavel is convinced that for Europe to conduct any large-scale operation without dependence on US support, it needs to have so-called “strategic enablers”.

Such strategic enablers are, for example, strategic transport connections, logistics, strategic communication, including satellites, or strategic intelligence.

“Of these capabilities, Europe has the minimum,” Pavel, the former head of the NATO military committee, added.

Pavel also warned that without strategic enablers, “we are not going to get anywhere with European defence”.

EU army: A midsummer night’s dream

In the past, Macron had been publicly vocal about creating an EU army, often backed by some EU leaders.

On the other hand, eastern European countries – and more discreetly, Washington and NATO – have been insisting against such a scenario.

Instead, eastern Europe stressed the need to strengthen EU defence as part of NATO.

In late September 2021, France and Greece signed a landmark military agreement that provides mutual assistance if a third country attacks one party. Many saw this move as a first step of an EU military force.

“We will not protect Europeans if we do not decide to have a real European army. Faced with Russia, which is on our borders and has shown that it can be threatening (…), we must have a Europe that defends itself more on its own, without depending solely on the United States and in a more sovereign manner,” he said. [EPA-EFE/BOB EDME / POOL MAXPPP OUT] [EPA-EFE/BOB EDME]

But since Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, the EU army narrative disappeared from EU politicians’ public speeches and was gradually replaced by the need to strengthen EU defence within NATO or strategic autonomy.

“We will not protect Europeans if we do not decide to have a real European army. Faced with Russia, which is on our borders and has shown that it can be threatening (…), we must have a Europe that defends itself more on its own, without depending solely on the United States and in a more sovereign manner,” he said.

He spoke of “authoritarian powers re-emerging and rearming on the edges of Europe”.

He even talked about the “protection from China, Russia and even the United States of America”, referring to the then US leader Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from a nuclear disarmament treaty dating back to the 1980s: he considered that the “main victim” was “Europe and its security”.

On 30 August 2021, during a meeting at the Élysée Palace with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, Macron insisted in a joint communiqué that the EU should develop its “strategic autonomy” to assume “greater responsibility for its security and defence”.

The advances led to the adoption of a strategic compass that established a common doctrine and the joint declaration of an ambition to strengthen and revive the European defence industry.

The Elysée sees it as an integral part of the EU’s sovereignty at a time when several countries continue to buy their weapons from the USA. Joint projects to develop the “air combat system of the future” and the “combat tank of the future” have been launched by France, Germany and Spain.

A “European defence fund” was also adopted for 2021-2027, with a budget of €8 billion, i.e. just over €1 billion per year, focused on research, development, and arms procurement.

By way of comparison, France will invest €413 billion over the period 2024-2030 to modernise and upgrade its army, i.e. almost €60 billion per year over seven years.

Also, after having indicated that NATO was “brain dead”, France now wants to reinvest in the Atlantic Alliance, where the President wants “a strong anchorage”, Macron said on November 2022.

France intends to be able to assume the role of a “framework nation” within NATO.