Interview with MEP Arnaud Danjean, chair, EP Subcommittee on Security and Defence
“We should avoid caricatures of European defence”
By Paul Ames | Friday 04 November 2011
Franco-British relations have been at the heart of European defence over the last 12 months of the historic military cooperation agreement of 12 October 2010, contributing to the key role they played in Libya, then the showdown between Britain and the Weimar Triangle over European defence policy and the creation of an EU operations headquarters. In your opinion, what is the significance of these relations for European defence?
There is a general context in Europe that is not very defence-friendly. On the one hand, there are strong budgetary constraints, and on the other certain countries are hesitant and question whether defence and if need be the military option should remain a strategic dimension of our foreign and security policy instruments. The Franco-British Treaty of 2010 is a response to this context. Two European countries show that they are still determined to act (a determination put into practice in the Libyan crisis) and to retain important military capabilities. Of course, I understand that certain countries regretted that this Franco-British rapprochement is not explicitly placed in a European mode of thought, as was the case with St Malo in 1998. Yet we have to be realistic and pragmatic: if two European countries are determined and have the capacity to work together more closely in the field of defence, then this is a step in the right direction. It is up to the other countries that can and want to make an effort to sign up to this approach. France does not give any absolute exclusivity to these Franco-British relations, since it also attaches importance to giving more visibility to the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) through mutual capability initiatives launched by the Weimar Triangle (Poland, Germany and France) expanded to include Italy and Spain.
What are your views on the Weimar Group initiative? Does the EU need an operations headquarters? Is it possible for the EU to advance on a closer defence policy without the United Kingdom?
I think that the creation of an operations planning and conduct structure is a necessity for the European Union. This is not a question of doctrine or ideology, but a pragmatic necessity in operational and budget terms. Instead of activating national operations centres, which would waste time and lead to high costs, it would be more logical to have a small permanent structure in Brussels. This does not duplicate what exists at NATO. We are not talking about the same scale. In my opinion, the United Kingdom should be involved in this development. The debate needs to be raised in the right terms and we should avoid caricatures. This is not about setting up an extensive staff to direct a huge “denationalised” European army, a competitor to NATO.
Libya was the first NATO operation directed by the Europeans. What does this operation tell us about the state of EU defence? Was it positive for the Europeans to take the initiative, or negative since it had to be done through NATO rather than EU defence structures?
I think that the Libyan case primarily demonstrated two essential aspects for understanding strategic developments: 1. our American friends and allies can no longer and do not wish to be in the front line of every crisis, particularly those of relatively low intensity taking place not far from Europe; and 2. European countries must be capable of carrying out military operations and therefore have to have the political will, diplomatic determination and operational capacities to act. This can happen through NATO, but it would be useful not to have to depend exclusively on NATO, in the event that a non-EU NATO member is opposed to an intervention, for example.
Libya also brought to light certain weaknesses in Europe’s military capabilities, for example its need to turn to the United States in areas like intelligence, reconnaissance, in-flight refuelling and so on. What military lessons should Europe learn from this operation?
The feedback process is under way in the military staffs and I am not in the best position to comment at this stage. I would only note that while known weaknesses were confirmed, such as intelligence and in-flight refuelling, other areas demonstrated the excellence of certain types of European equipment: the Rafale jet fighter and its versatility, helicopters and precision missiles were remarkably successful and this should also be highlighted.
Another question that has impacted European defence this year is the austerity budget. How can Europe achieve the dual objective of developing stronger military resources and getting its finances in order? Will ‘pooling and sharing’ be the answer? What has this policy achieved so far?
This is a process that is naturally expanding as a result of budget restrictions, but that was already under way, particularly through the work of the European Defence Agency. Many initiatives, even modest ones, exist and are being put into practice. Training is an area that has to be pooled, along with the use of certain equipment (progress is already tangible on strategic transport). Member states have to identify without delay the sectors where this effort is feasible.
This year also saw the entry into force of the directive on defence public procurement. Why is it important for member states to allow greater competition on their defence markets? What other measures are needed?
The transparency and fluidity of the European market are obviously important, but we also have to know what we Europeans want, while keeping two things in mind: 1. defence cannot be boiled down to market mechanisms, to a market like any other. The stakes go well beyond economic competitiveness alone; and 2. do we really want strategic autonomy to keep from becoming not only industrial, but also military and political sub-contractors? The policy we choose for the defence industry must also, and most importantly, answer this question.
For the EU, the major defence mission continues to be the fight against piracy in the waters of Somalia. Despite its successes, the pirates seem to be becoming increasingly daring, for example with the recent kidnapping of European citizens off the coast of Kenya. What can be done to make Europe’s actions against piracy more effective?
This is a major and extremely complex problem. We all know that its origins lie to a large extent in the instability that prevails in Somalia. We can act against piracy, as we are doing with Atalanta, but it is a pipe dream to think that we can resolve this problem without having an ambitious comprehensive strategy for Somalia with all our Western and, above all, African partners. The military efforts are essential and I fully support firmer action, including on land if need be, on an ad hoc basis, but there has to be more determined economic and diplomatic support.
The SEDE subcommittee worked this year on threats to cyber security. Do you think the European authorities are taking this danger seriously enough and what measures should be taken?
We are going to step up work and proposals on this threat, which is growing rapidly and is still perceived too theoretically by states. This is an area where the pooling of research between organisations (EU-NATO), countries and between civilians and military should materialise without delay.