The European commission unveiled plans on Wednesday to build a “coalition of the willing” for a shared defence and security force, which critics dismissed as a fresh and expensive EU wish-list, but is seen as a sign of the continent’s growing vulnerability.
“The threat of terrorism is on the rise, as is the state of emergency in many European countries,” the commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, said. “We know there is a common interest for a stronger European security architecture to confront the increasing mobility of terrorist groups.”
Anti-EU campaigners have criticized the plan as unnecessary and instead called for continued British support for the European security and defence policies, and called for increased spending on the defence sector.
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On Monday, the European commission argued that the EU was prepared to take more responsibility for security and defence matters once the UK leaves the bloc, arguing in a white paper for the UK to take more responsibility for security and defence issues.
The commission published its efforts to reach a coherent defence and security policy by 2030 in a long-awaited strategy plan. It also released a tender document on Tuesday for a contract to build submarines to replace the Westland helicopters in the European Union’s fleet.
The plans propose that the “countries of the east” not play a role in the European common defence force as it includes commitments to defence collaboration with the United States, Russia and China. Those countries concerned about close ties with China and Russia will be included in a defense industry integration agreement.
Juncker said the goal of the multi-national armed forces was to have a defence and security policy “in the full independence of each country, with its economy, its sovereignty and with full capacity to deploy”.
“This is about the EU standing on its own two feet, contributing more to global stability and peace,” he said, adding that European military and security decisions should “assume the fullest respect for the sovereignty of each country”.
The president of the European parliament, Antonio Tajani, described the plan as “another European wish-list” and reiterated a call for continued British support.
“Europe is extremely vulnerable and the UK must support its friends in Europe and the world at this time,” he said.
However, the Labour MP John Woodcock said the proposals were “frankly laughable”.
“With tanks without strategy? Greece in 2020 and the UK in 2019. Indeed, it is more likely than not that when the third attempt is rolled out, it will result in the same failure in terms of ambition and delivery,” he said.
Tajani also accused the Conservatives of overspending.
“We live in an uncertain world, more and more responsibility is being exerted upon our armed forces, which are facing all kinds of threats,” he said. “With uncertain allies there is a responsibility to the taxpayers.”
Alex White, the head of EU policy at the European Council, who drafted the strategy, said that despite the fact that the EU was a continent of many distinct statelets, its defence policy had to reach out to all.
“The EU has previously said it wants to have a European defence union, and perhaps that’s been a bit ‘unfinished business’,” he said. “The idea behind this is that by cooperating with a constellation of like-minded states we can have as much preparedness as possible to respond to unforeseen crises.”
Speaking to the Financial Times after the strategy was published, the British foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said that while there were measures that were currently feasible, more needed to be done.
“The commission have pointed out they’re very ambitious, a lot of that is achievable today, but there are things they need to reach agreement on,” he said. “There are a series of measures that have been taken, that we’ve seen in development for a long time, but need to be clarified so we can move forward.”