The Guardian
Richard Norton-Taylor

Armed forces in Europe are inadequate, underperforming and waste taxpayers’ money, according to a report published yesterday, which warns that military cooperation between Britain and France is essential if Europe is to play any effective role in future international crises.

European troops are engaged in operations ranging from humanitarian assistance to combat operations, notably in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The requirement for more deployable forces is unlikely to be temporary: both Nato and the European Union are planning on the basis that in future there will be an even greater number of limited but demanding operations,” Alexander Nicoll of the IISS said yesterday.

Above all, he said, the policies of Britain and France will “determine Europe’s ability to have strong and coherent capabilities in the future”. With “Franco-British impetus”, the report adds, “European countries could develop capabilities that would enable Europe to pay an effective role in addressing international crises, at good value to the taxpayer.”

It points to shortcomings and disagreements that have caused problems for military commanders, notably among the Nato-led forces in Afghanistan. They include different national caveats over rules of engagement which have limited the role of German troops, for example.

The 27 members of the EU spent €204bn (£162bn) on defence in 2006, according to the latest available figures.

It points to the shortage of helicopters, the waste of money involved in too many companies producing equipment for their own markets and inadequate resources devoted to research and development. “European armed forces (with some exceptions) are clearly unable to live up the goals expressed by their governments,” it adds.

The IISS does not suggest that the solution is some kind of European army. On the contrary, it emphasises that its study “provides a clear reminder that almost everything about defence in Europe remains resolutely national”.

Officials responsible for drawing up France’s defence and security white paper published last month have driven home the point. Aware of political opposition in Britain to closer cooperation on defence in the EU…

Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, has said he wants the EU to have an enhanced plan to conduct autonomous operations.

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