Franco-German tandem in EU’s security policy

  • Justyna Gotkowska (OSW)
  • 16.10.2017 12:18

Franco-German reform efforts also span into security and defence. But strategic differences prove to be a major obstacle in European defence integration.

French and German proposals in the CSDP

Franco-German discussions on strengthening security cooperation within the EU intensified after the Brexit referendum in 2016. Faced with a crisis of the European project, France and Germany wanted to show that more integration can be agreed upon and realised swiftly within the EU. EU’s security and defence policy was one of the few areas in which Paris and Berlin were able to find the lowest common denominator. In 2016 the French and German ministers of foreign affairs and of defence put forward proposals that - with the support of the European Commission - stimulated the development of new initiatives in the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). As a result, in 2017 the European Council decided: (1) to activate the permanent structured cooperation (PESCO) to make a more intense defence cooperation within a smaller group of member states possible, (2) to launch a European Defence Fund (EDF) to co-finance multilateral armaments and R&D programmes, (3) to introduce a coordinated annual review on defence (CARD) to coordinate the development of national military capabilities in the EU. French ambitions with regard to enhancing the EU’s security policy go far beyond that, as Macron’s vision shows.

In spite of putting forward joint CSDP proposals in the last two years, the French and German goals in developing the EU’s security and defence policy differ substantially. France is interested in creating financial and military instruments and mechanisms that could be used in crisis management operations in the EU’s southern neighbourhood (Africa, the Middle East) to complement French security and defence policy. Paris therefore advocates ambitious goals in developing the CSDP. It wants to create a smaller and more exclusive group of member states that is politically and militarily ready to integrate and to jointly conduct military interventions. It also aims to provide more financial support for such operations from the common EU budget.

Limits for Franco-German military cooperation

In spite of putting forward joint CSDP proposals in the last two years, the French and German goals in developing the EU’s security and defence policy differ substantially. France is interested in creating financial and military instruments and mechanisms that could be used in crisis management operations in the EU’s southern neighbourhood (Africa, the Middle East) to complement French security and defence policy. Paris, therefore, advocates ambitious goals in developing the CSDP. It wants to create a smaller and more exclusive group of member states that is politically and militarily ready to integrate and to jointly conduct military interventions. It also aims to provide more financial support for such operations from the common EU budget.

 

Strategic differences between Paris and Berlin have proved to be an obstacle for deepening bilateral military cooperation.

 

Germany, reluctant to use military instruments in solving regional crises and conflicts, is interested in developing the EU’s security and defence policy for quite different reasons. On the one hand, Berlin sees a general need to enhance Europe’s military capabilities, also due to being faced with pressure from the USA. The narrative supporting more military integration in the EU (and not in the unpopular NATO) is used partly for domestic reasons – in order to generate popular support for strengthening the Bundeswehr and increasing military spending. On the other hand, by promoting in the EU concepts of the structural integration of the armed forces with the Bundeswehr as the core of (regional) military cooperation, Germany wants to enhance its own political, military and industrial position. It seems however that Berlin is more interested in creating such integrated structures (and improving its own position) than in making them operational.

Due to these differences, Paris has in recent years treated the United Kingdom as its priority partner for both crisis management operations, and training and exercises. The bilateral military cooperation developed swiftly after signing the Lancaster House Treaties in 2010. At the same time, Berlin has concentrated on pursuing military integration with smaller partners from Benelux, and Northern and Central Europe. Strategic differences between Paris and Berlin have proved to be an obstacle for deepening bilateral military cooperation.

The discrepancies between Paris and Berlin involve also the perceptions of threat and challenges. Africa and the Middle East have always been strategically important for France and from the French perspective require French (and European) military interventions in case of crises or conflicts. In turn Germany, after the Russian annexation of Crimea, has embraced the need to slowly return to the national defence model of the armed forces.

However, it cannot be ruled out that some of Macron’s proposals on European defence may be softened and included in a wider future Franco-German agreement on the reform of the EU. However, it remains to be seen if they find EU-wide acceptance.

German-French industrial push in the EU

However, there is one area related to security and defence policy in the EU in which Paris and Berlin are united. Both strongly support the creation of a European defence technological and industrial base (EDTIB).

After Brexit, Paris and Berlin perceive each other as priority partners in armament cooperation as shown in an ambitious cooperation plan presented after the meeting of the Franco-German Defence and Security Council on 13 July this year (the Council includes the French President, German Chancellor, ministers of foreign affairs and defence, General Inspector of the Bundeswehr and Chief of the Defence Staff of the French Armed Forces). The plan lists several armaments projects that France and Germany want to pursue jointly: a new generation main battle tank and artillery system, a maritime patrol system, a European UAV, a new generation fighter jet. Some proposals are not new (main battle tank, UAV), some are a novelty (new generation fighter jet). It remains to be seen whether the projects will be implemented, the Council’s conclusions do however show the Franco-German ambitions in shaping the future of the European arms industry.

After the wave of consolidation in the West European arms industry that resulted in creating the EADS group in 2000 (rebranded as Airbus Group three years ago) and establishing the MBDA group in 2001, the next consolidations are on the horizon. The first step was the merger of Germany’s KMW with France’s Nexter – companies producing systems for the land forces (KNDS Group is now responsible for the project of the next generation main battle tank). From Germany’s perspective, there is no retreat from European consolidation in the arms industry, as stated in the government’s strategy of 2015. Both Berlin and Paris will try hard to maintain and enhance (jointly) their position in this sector.


The article was shortened for editorial purposes and publish with the approval of the Centre for Eastern Studies. Find its full original version here.




About author: Justyna Gotkowska (OSW)

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