BRUSSELS • The European Union's executive threw its support yesterday behind Franco-German plans to integrate Europe's militaries and defence industries, offering money and coordination to build up depleted forces heavily reliant on the United States.
Spurred by Britain's decision to leave the EU, Brussels has seized on deeper military ties proposed last year by France and Germany to show its citizens the bloc is still relevant and can provide security in the face of Islamist militant attacks and a resurgent Russia.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told a news conference: "Defence and security is one of the fields through which we can relaunch the European Union."
Failings in Europe's bombing campaign in Libya in 2011, when the US had to step in with refuelling planes, and Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea have reignited EU defence plans that date back to the 1950s, but have remained elusive.
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Britain had long blocked EU defence integration, fearing a European armed force wearing the same uniform.
"This is not about creating an EU army," European Commission vice-president Jyrki Katainen told reporters. "Nato does not have a Nato army," he said, stressing that Western military alliances are formed by national forces working together.
Although the EU has more than a dozen military missions abroad, the world's biggest trading bloc has never been able to match its economic might with broad defensive power, preferring instead to rely on the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.
RESET AND RELAUNCH
Defence and security is one of the fields through which we can relaunch the European Union.
EUROPEAN UNION FOREIGN POLICY CHIEF FEDERICA MOGHERINI
The EU is not seeking to compete with Nato, Ms Mogherini said.
But US President Donald Trump's sharp criticism of European allies for low defence spending and his refusal to fully back the alliance publicly has added to concerns that, without the US and Britain, the EU is vulnerable to a host of threats, from cyber attacks to militant attacks.
A year since proposals on a "European Defence Union" from Paris and Berlin, the European Commission said it was willing to provide money from the EU's common budget for the first time for defence research.
The commission said it would also create a fund to reverse billions of euros in defence cuts to let governments club together to develop and buy new helicopters and planes to lower costs, also opening the door to new drones, cyber warfare systems and other high-tech gear.
While the amounts of money depend on EU governments' willingness to collaborate, the commission said it would put forward at least €1.5 billion (S$2.3 billion) a year from the bloc's budget for the research and purchase of assets.