EU takes step to act for its own security after Trump upset

French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian looks on at the start of European council of defense Ministers in Brussels, Belgium, on Nov 15, 2016.
French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian looks on at the start of European council of defense Ministers in Brussels, Belgium, on Nov 15, 2016.PHOTO: EPA

BRUSSELS • The European Union (EU) has agreed on a defence plan that could see it sending rapid-response forces abroad for the first time, as US President-elect Donald Trump's criticism of allies appeared to galvanise Europe into revamping its strategy.

The plan set out by EU defence and foreign ministers could allow the bloc to send forces to stabilise a crisis before United Nations peacekeepers can take over, and more broadly cement a willingness to act without the United States.

"Europe needs to be able to act for its own security," French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told reporters on Monday.

"This will allow Europe to take a step towards its strategic autonomy," said Mr Le Drian, who has led the EU efforts along with Germany and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, using EU code language for greater independence of Washington.

The 16-page plan lists tasks and aims, many of which risk remaining abstract without an increase in funding.

But it nonetheless takes on special relevance after Mr Trump's comments during his campaign for the US presidency in which he sniped at low levels of defence spending by some of Nato's European members.

Ms Mogherini said there was support from governments on using so-called EU battle groups of 1,500 personnel, which have been operational since 2007 but never used.

GREATER INDEPENDENCE

Europe needs to be able to act for its own security. This will allow Europe to take a step towards its strategic autonomy.

FRENCH DEFENCE MINISTER JEAN-YVES LE DRIAN, on the new defence plan.

EU leaders must still sign off on the plan next month, while divisive aspects over money were left for officials to work out next year. Proposals for a European military headquarters were scaled back to focus on civilian missions.

Figures on the table for funding the EU plan pale in comparison to the US$18 billion (S$25.4 billion) that the US aims to spend over the next five years on new technologies.

During the US election campaign, Mr Trump threatened to abandon US allies in Europe if they did not spend enough on defence, appearing to question almost 70 years of US military support that has been a cornerstone of American foreign policy.

"Clearly it is a message for all of us to see how we can increase and improve our coordination," Sweden's Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom said of Mr Trump's campaign comments, even though her country is not itself a member of the US-led Nato alliance.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 16, 2016, with the headline 'EU takes step to act for its own security after Trump upset'. Print Edition | Subscribe