True to form, the French EU presidency is beating the old drum of what President Emmanuel Macron calls “strategic autonomy”. EU foreign and defense ministers, meeting in Brest last week, were asked to give impetus to a draft “Strategic Compass” document on a vision for a more robust and coherent defense posture, a key priority of the French Presidency. Leaders are expected to adopt it in March.
It is a question of giving additional impetus to NATO’s efforts – 21 EU members are part of NATO – but the French do not see any problem with the idea of a European capability independent of the United States and an ability to project the union as a power on the world stage. Especially since the United States is looking to Asia and Russia is waving sabers at the Ukrainian border. As Macron made clear when he took office in December, he wants to make “Europe powerful in the world, totally sovereign, free of its choices and mistress of its destiny”.
From an Irish perspective, the ‘compass’, widely hailed by Irish officials as pointing in the right direction, is, more prosaically, largely about strengthening the Union’s ability to contribute to global security, with a strong emphasis on multilateralism and a central place for the UN in decision-making and mandates.
The idea of creating a rapid deployment force of 5,000 men is mainly to be able to help with emergency evacuations in conflict areas such as Afghanistan, where the EU has largely been unable to to contribute. Even the language of “battlegroups”, previously created but never used, has been removed.
There is excitement in Dublin about increased cooperation on cybersecurity and hybrid warfare, but there still seems to be some sensitivity on what are known as Article Issues. 44 – how ‘coalitions of the willing’, in which only certain members participate but under an EU flag, are paid for and monitored, and how to ensure that the values of the Union are safeguarded.