Angela Merkel has backed Emmanuel Macron’s call for the creation of a European army, using a speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg to make a passionate appeal for closer defence co-operation between EU member states.
“We should work on the vision of one day creating a real European army,” the German chancellor said, to boos from Eurosceptic MEPs and cheers from her political allies. “I’m saying this in full awareness of the developments of the last few years,” she said, in an apparent reference to the election of US president Donald Trump and his avowed “America First” stance.
Her speech echoed comments by the French president last week, in which he called for a “true European army”, saying Europe needed to defend itself without having to rely wholly on the US.
Ms Merkel’s speech came shortly after Mr Trump re-ignited his row with Mr Macron for pushing for closer EU military integration, tweeting that France should “pay for NATO or not”.
Ms Merkel has long argued that Mr Trump’s America First policy should force Europe to become more self-reliant — and she made that point again on Tuesday in arguing for much closer European co-operation in defence matters.
“The times when we could unconditionally rely on others are over,” she said. “And that means that, if we Europeans want to survive as a community, we must take our fate more decisively into our own hands.”
Having already criticised the French president’s comments last week Mr Trump renewed his attack on Twitter: “Emmanuel Macron suggests building its own army to protect Europe against the US, China and Russia,” he wrote (misquoting the French president who in an interview with French radio Europe 1 had cited Russia as a military threat). “But it was Germany in World Wars One & Two — How did that work out for France?”
He continued: “They were starting to learn German in Paris before the US came along. Pay for NATO or not!”
Ms Merkel praised efforts to create a European joint intervention force for military operations, as well as the “permanent structured co-operation” programme ( Pesco), which is shaping up to be the EU’s most serious attempt yet at forging closer defence ties. The scheme involves 17 projects ranging from improving military logistics to developing a new infantry fighting vehicle.
She was speaking to the European Parliament just over two weeks after announcing she would stand down as leader of her Christian Democratic Union, a party she has ruled for 18 years. She still intends to stay on as chancellor till the end of her fourth term, in 2021.
But Ms Merkel went further on Tuesday, saying the EU should strive to create a proper European army, which would show the world “that there will never again be war between European countries”.
Addressing a concern among some US military leaders, Ms Merkel emphasised that such a common army would “not be aimed against Nato”, but would on the contrary, be a “good complement” to the north Atlantic alliance.
She said it would be “easier to co-operate with us” if Europe did not have 160 different weapons systems, and each country did not have its own “independent administration, support and training [procedures]”. “In this regard we are not an efficient partner,” she added.
She also said Europe needed to jointly develop weapons systems and create a common arms export policy. She also called for the creation of a European Security Council “in which important decisions can be prepared more quickly”.
Ms Merkel’s speech illustrates a shift in the German position on defence co-operation. Berlin had long been sceptical about Mr Macron’s proposal for a joint European intervention force, with defence minister Ursula von der Leyen repeatedly arguing that EU military co-operation could only occur within existing EU structures and programmes, such as Pesco.
Mr Macron, in contrast, prefers a force that could also include the UK post-Brexit.