‘Time to act!’ EU army plot gathers momentum but bloc warned over major challenge

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Josep Borrell, the EU’s Foreign Affairs representative, has urged the bloc to create a “rapid response force” of 5,000 troops, following the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. Speaking to journalists in Slovenia, he said: “The need for more European defence has never been as much evident as today after the events in Afghanistan.”

The view was shared by Claudio Graziano, EU military committee chairman, who argued “now is the time to act” and create a European “reaction force”.

Some European leaders, such as French President Emmanuel Macron, have long called for European “strategic autonomy” from the United States.

This argument has won new converts since August 15, when Kabul fell to the Taliban.

American and British troops then mounted a rescue operation for their nationals, and Afghan allies, from Kabul international airport.

A suicide bomber from the local ISIS affiliate killed at least 182, including 13 American soldiers, at an airport gate.

German defence minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer was previously a critic of European army plans.

Writing in Politico last November, she said: “Illusions of European strategic autonomy must come to an end.”

The minister added: “Europeans will not be able to replace America’s crucial role as a security provider.”

This angered President Macron, who said he “profoundly” disagreed with her comments.

However, since the fall of Kabul Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer suggested “coalitions of the willing could act after a joint decision of all” EU member states.

But, despite the calls, one expert has warned it will not be easy to convince all member states creating a major problem for the plans.

Richard Whitman, a professor of politics and international relations at the University of Kent, told France 24: “It will be hard to convince some member states that collective EU defence would bring the same security as NATO’s US-backed defence arrangement.

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“Nobody in the EU has ever been able to come up with a decision-making arrangement that takes national divides into account while facilitating expeditious decision-making; it’s either the lowest common denominator or grand rhetorical comments tied to absurd propositions.

“Military action is politically defensible only when taken by national leaders and parliaments – and it’s difficult to see that being worked around.”

Most EU member states continue to spend considerably less than two percent of their GDP on defence, the minimum NATO recommendation.

Germany currently spends 1.53 percent, an increase of 0.5 percent since 2015.

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All European NATO members boosted their defence spending following the Russian invasion of the Crimean peninsula in 2014.

Speaking to France 24 Claudia Major, a defence expert from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, argued Germany will still fall short of the NATO target.

He said: “Germany has increased its defence spending since the Russian annexation of Crimea – but it’s not enough.

“Germany is unlikely to reach the NATO objective to spend 2 percent of GDP on defence by 2024.

“Countries like Germany don’t spend as much because they don’t feel existentially threatened.”

The EU did create a series of “battlegroups” in 2007, comprised of 1,500 soldiers from each member state.

However, these have never been deployed in a warzone.

Shashank Joshi, defence editor of The Economist, explained: “At the same time, those units were lacking in key capabilities.”

Most key EU member states are part of the NATO collective security alliance, which includes the US.
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