Juncker wants EU military headquarters
The European Union must do more in the defence field, starting with creation of an EU military headquarters and working toward a common military force, the head of the EU's executive arm said yesterday, insisting the bloc's economic and cultural influence isn't enough to safeguard its place in today's uncertain world.
Jean-Claude Juncker, EU Commission president, said in a major speech that the 28-nation organisation "should be stronger" militarily.
"Together we have to make sure that we protect our interests," Juncker told the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.
The EU leader stressed that the bloc's actions should take place in concert with the US-led NATO defence alliance, to which 22 EU member states also belong.
"More European defence in Europe doesn't mean less trans-Atlantic solidarity," Juncker said.
The decision in June by British voters to withdraw from the European Union would deprive the EU of its militarily most capable member. France and Germany, the bloc's two most influential member states, recently submitted a proposal for greater EU defence coordination, ranging from creation of a logistics hub for pooling military transport to an EU military headquarters.
Earlier this year, US President Barack Obama called on Europeans to do more in meeting common security threats like the Islamic State extremist group.
"We need a strong Europe to bear its share of the burden, working with us on behalf of our collective security," Obama said in Hannover, Germany, in April.
In the face of a more bellicose Russia, violent Islamic extremism, cyber-attacks and other modern challenges, NATO and EU officials say they now collaborate more closely than ever. But NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg cautioned earlier this month that "the thing we have to avoid is duplication."
The EU's Lisbon Treaty, which took effect in 2009, foresaw a mechanism for permanent defence cooperation inside the bloc, but squabbles among member states have prevented the topic from even being broached at meetings of EU leaders, said Marcin Terlikowski, a European security expert at the Polish Institute of International Affairs.
If Juncker's proposals are enacted, "it truly will be a quantum leap in EU defence cooperation," Terlikowski said. He said some early reality checks will come at the September 26-27 meeting of EU defence ministers, and a summit of bloc leaders scheduled for December.
Juncker's proposals, made during his annual "State of the European Union" address, got a mixed reception at the European Parliament.
Juncker said greater defence cooperation also makes economic sense for EU member nations, since it would reduce as much as 100 billion euros' worth of wasteful duplication of spending yearly. By the end of 2016, he said, he will seek creation of a European defence fund to help spur military-related research and development.