France’s Defence Minister Hervé Morin
Defence plans moving ahead despite Irish ‘no’
By Nicolas Gros-Verheyde | Tuesday 28 October 2008
On the eve of France’s Presidency of the EU, the country’s Defence Minister, Hervé Morin, set out his priorities for the next six months to journalists in Paris.
An EU with 27 countries
I have been able to meet all my counterparts (in their countries or during international meetings). I have come out of this general consultation with a feeling of optimism. Contrary to what many believe, countries usually considered pro-NATO are today the keenest supporters of the European defence policy. And the consensus reached on our proposals bodes well.
Europe of defence and NATO
Nicolas Sarkozy’s position on NATO was the key to moving things forward. As long as the Europe of defence was considered to be a way of avoiding NATO, we were not making progress. Through this gesture, we have lifted a part of the doubt that some member states had over the Europe of defence. After my meetings with my counterparts, I have emerged convinced that, for most of our partners, the Atlantic Alliance is a security system which suits them, which is not expensive, and which has proved itself since 1949. And that, for them, is worth all the rest. This idea of complementarity is therefore fundamental.
We have to enhance the pooling of our resources. There is the implementation of joint maintenance of the Airbus A400M with the UK (100%) and Germany (partially involved), and Spain has just joined us. It is important for us to keep this joint potential for 40 years and to not have differences of opinion over the years [like for Transall - Ed]. We also want to begin work toward a joint European air fleet, like for the C17, with drawing rights for participating countries. As for air and sea, why not have an aircraft carrier permanently stationed at sea which remains under the operational authority of the owner state but which is at the disposal at EU level (formalised in a treaty if necessary)? There is also the creation of a trust fund to upgrade the helicopter fleet, particularly those in Central Europe, and therefore attain additional capacities. Finally, with the launch of the post-Helios satellite operation, and eight countries which participate in it, we can make progress on topics such as space, a European early warning or missile detection system.
European Defence Agency
The EDA must find a new breath of life and impetus, with the launch of research programmes, which progressively lead us toward joint European programmes, like urban security and heavy helicopters… It is also evident that it must benefit from a multi-year budget. Europe spends seven times less money on research and development than the USA. And 70% of this expenditure is funded by France and the UK. There is a risk of a considerable technological gap. We are therefore interested in pooling our resources, which are already weaker than America’s.
Pooling of forces
We have several international forces. But all these forces are almost never deployed. We have, for example, a Eurocorps headquarters of 1,000 equipped and trained men, who want nothing more than to be deployed, but they never are… That could have been a formidable force in Chad. We therefore need to be able to use these tools more naturally for generating forces. Another problem is the GT1500 battle group, whose engagement rules need to be revised. With the rules as they stand, these groups can never be used. They must be relaxed.
It is not only an intellectual exercise, it is part of our joint European knowledge. It is therefore a major exercise. We have a common future, we have to ensure our common security. Faced with threats that we have defined, we have to take into account the consequences on resources and capacities.
The situation has changed in comparison to 2003. We only had 15 member states and now we have 27. There are additional risks: nuclear proliferation, cyber attacks (a real risk for people, in hospitals, for example), and powerful terrorist networks. Our cities are more vulnerable today than they were during the Cold War.
European Command Centre
We do not aim to create an operation command centre like NATO. It is simply a question of having 50 or so officers, capable of leading a robust but modest operation. There is no duplication with NATO. Because sometimes Europe is the only one capable of leading certain missions, in Africa, for example… We have to do everything so that it has the capacity to do so. Having five operation command centres, like at the moment, does not just have a cost. It also presents practical difficulties. They have to be equipped and staffed, which takes time. Then each one must get used to working together. And the day that the operation ends, each one disperses and we lose a part of the jointly acquired skills. While it would be so simple, and less costly, to have one of these centres in Brussels… Finally, there is no coherence with the battle groups. Europe has a rapid reaction force, capable of leaving within a few days. But it does not have a command centre which can be mobilised in the same timeframe.
Consequences of the Irish ‘no’
France’s priorities are not linked to the Lisbon Treaty. It is certainly not possible to carry out structured cooperation. But we cannot say that everything stops. It is rather the climate that’s changing. There are two ways to react: either depression, or, on the contrary, we tell ourselves that we can do as much as possible. My frame of mind falls into the second category.
If the Lisbon Treaty comes into force, content of the permanent structured cooperation
Why not a general armament delegation at European level, a programme to reinforce capacities and joint research, a joint forces organisation? But this cooperation will only work between countries which have the same ambition and talk the same language. It must not be an additional structure but an additional ambition.
France’s priorities are not linked to the Lisbon Treaty. It is certainly not possible to carry out structured cooperation