By Honor Mahony
Germany’s foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, has indicated he would like to see a European army established.
Speaking at a Social Democrat security policy conference in Berlin on Monday (5 May), Mr Steinmeier said he favoured the setting up of a “European armed force” and that he would like to see moves in this direction speeded up.
German daily Tagespiegel reported Mr Steinmeier as referring to the fact that the EU’s new treaty, currently undergoing ratification across the European Union, allows for the possibility of a group of member states to “move ahead” in defence policy.
He noted that from Berlin’s point of view, France is the key partner for this. Mr Steinmeier said he had already spoken with his French counterpart, Bernard Kouchner, on concrete steps to improve common areas in the military field.
These include the areas of transport, helicopter capacity and procurement.
The end result of a consolidation of military capacities must be a European army, said Mr Steinmeier, according to German news agency DPA.
At the same conference, other leading politicians from the Social Democratic party – which currently forms part of the governing coalition with the Christian Democrats in Germany – also spoke out in favour of the idea.
Former defence minister and head of the SPD group Peter Struck said: “There will still be opposition to the idea of a European army as there once was against the single currency, the euro.
“But single states are no longer able to handle the threats of today,” he continued.
The German politicians’ comments appear to be in line with the views of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has in the past made several statements on the need for common European defence.
The French president has more recently not been so vocal on the issue. This is being seen as a deliberate ploy not to upset the EU treaty ratification process, particularly in neutral Ireland – the only country to have a referendum on the charter and where military issues are highly sensitive with the electorate.
An email from a Dublin-based UK official after a briefing by an official in the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs that was leaked to the press last month suggested that one of the reasons for having the treaty referendum before summer rather than in autumn was due to a fear of “unhelpful developments during the French presidency – particularly related to EU defence.”
In addition Britain, as the other serious military power in the EU along with France, has also reacted coolly to Mr Sarkozy’s push for more integration in EU defence. London has also yet to ratify the EU treaty.
But Mr Sarkozy is expected to return to the issue in the second half of this year, during his stint at the EU helm.
The EU treaty, which has to be ratified by all 27 countries to come into force, allows for a group of member states who are politically willing to go forward to structured cooperation in defence.