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Donald Trump’s victory, as well as Brexit, ought to speed up plans for EU defence integration, Germany has said.

“Europe needs the common political will for more security policy relevance. The outcome of the election in America could provide an additional impetus”, German defence minister Ursula von der Leyen said in an opinion article in the Rheinische Post, a German newspaper, on Thursday (10 November).

Von der Leyen (l) with Mogherini (Photo: eeas.europa.eu)

“The Brexit decision and the election in the United States have set a new course” for Europe, she added.

She said it was “difficult for Germany and Europe, on the day after the election, to assess what to expect from a Trump presidency”.

She predicted that the US would initially turn inward “to heal the tremendous internal turmoil in the country” that arose from Trump’s divisive campaign.

She said EU security would continue to depend on the US and on Nato, but Trump’s victory meant that Europe, and Germany as “a great nation in the centre of Europe”, would have to be “more self-reliant on security issues”.

Von der Leyen spoke of “building a common security and defence organisation” that would concentrate on stabilising African and Middle East countries in order to alleviate the flows of refugees coming to Europe.

“This is one of the central lessons of the refugee crisis. If we do not take care of the problems, then, at some point, we will face the consequences”, she said.

Speaking the same day at a meeting of the European Defence Agency (EDA) in Brussels, Federica Mogherini, the EU foreign policy chief, echoed the German minister.

“It is starting to be clear to everyone – that we can only succeed in providing security to our citizens if we work together as a true Union, with the full potential of a super power, in the field of security and defence”, the Italian former diplomat said.

She said Nato was still “the cornerstone of our collective defence”, but that the EU should have “strategic autonomy”.

She called for the creation of a single command HQ for its military missions, which she described as a smaller version of Shape, the Nato command centre in Belgium.

Europe should make “better use of our rapid response forces, for instance with a flexible deployment of the battlegroups” – battalion-sized forces composed of soldiers from small groups of EU states, she added.

She also said that the EDA could help coordinate EU defence procurement and R&D in future to create a “European industrial base”.

“Horizon 2020 only covers civilian and dual-use technologies. A continent-wide joint research programme on defence would be a natural extension of Horizon2020”, she added, referring to Europe’s existing €80 billion science fund.

EU foreign ministers will discuss the implications of Trump’s victory at a special dinner, called for by Germany, in Brussels on Sunday.

Foreign and defence ministers will also discuss what Mogherini called her “implementation Plan on security and defence” in the EU capital and Monday and Tuesday.

Trump, who is to take office on 20 January, said in his campaign that he would not defend Nato states which did not pay their fair share on defence and indicated that he might recognise Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

For security experts, such as Mark Gaelotti, that meant that Baltic states and Ukraine would be left on their own to resist Russia’s “adventurism”.

It also meant the risk of a US-Russia confrontation was higher down the line if Russian leader Vladimir Putin tried to test Trump’s limits.

Von der Leyen’s reference to Brexit comes after the June referendum, in which the UK voted to leave the EU.

Britain was the EU’s top military power and had long vowed to block European security cooperation on the grounds that it would undermine Nato.

Von der Leyen’s appeal for an EU military force and Mogherini’s ideas on how to take that forward were already set down in a joint paper by France, Germany, Italy, and Spain, circulated in October in reaction to the Brexit vote.

“To be clear: an ‘EU Army’ is not our objective,” they said at the time.

Italy, and Germany, do want an EU army, however, according to separate Italian proposals and according to France’s reading of Berlin.

Italy, in September, called for a “joint permanent European Multinational Force” that would pave the way for “a future European integrated force”.

French finance minister Michel Sapin, speaking at the Tatra summit, a conference in Bratislava last month organised by the Globsec think tank, said: “This is something that is very close to the Germans’ heart – they would like to create a European army”.

While Von der Leyen, in her Rheinische Post article, focused on Africa and the Middle East, other German politicians have said that EU military integration was also needed to deter Russian aggression.

“His [Trump’s] attitude is definitely a threat to the capacity of the west to stand up to an aggressive and nationalist Russia,” Norbert Roettgen, a leading MP in the ruling CDU party, told the Financial Times, a British newspaper, this week.

Germany is raising defence spending from €34 billion in 2015 to €39.2 billion in 2020, but its spending (1.2% of GDP) is still far below Nato’s target (2% of GDP) for allied states.

It is sending 500 troops to Lithuania in early 2017 as part of Nato’s new Russia-deterrent force.

Speaking at a security conference in Munich in 2015 – when neither Brexit, nor Trump were on the horizon – the German president, Joachim Gauck, already spoke of a deep shift in German thinking.

He said his country should put aside World War II anxieties and play a bigger military role abroad.

“While there are genuine pacifists in Germany, there are also people who use Germany’s guilt for its past as a shield for laziness or a desire to disengage from the world,” he said.

“This [guilt] gives Germany a questionable right to look the other way … Restraint can be taken too far.”

 

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