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Karl Von Wogau (MEP): Europe must be more autonomous

© NGV – Karl Von Wogau traveling in Moldova Ukraine March 2008

NB: I confess, Von Wogau, in his introductory remarks or lessons that he did not fail to learn, often with balance but also with determination, taught me a lot...

• You do not represent yourself. Regrets about leaving Parliament?

No… Turning the page after thirty years, indeed, it's not easy. These years have been interesting. In fact, when I came, I was thinking of doing a single mandate, of 5 years, then moving on to something else. But, after five years, I found Parliament more exciting than dealing with pills (Von Wogau worked in the pharmaceutical industry). And I continued...

Progress and weaknesses of European defense

• Reading your latest report, do we still feel bitterness over the slow progress of defense Europe?

It's not bitterness. Over the past ten years, many things have been achieved in the European Union. Structures such as the Military Committee, the Cops, the Military Staff, the European Defense Agency have emerged. We carried out 22 foreign operations, civilian and military. And, that a joint project like “Musis” sees the light of day, or that a system like Galileo, financed by a European budget, is also available for Pesd operations… that's not nothing!

• It doesn't just happen by itself though?

Logic. We are doing something revolutionary in every way. It takes a little time to correct the… thousand years of error since the Strasbourg oaths… Many projects have been launched under the French presidency. But there have been crises (Georgia, financial crisis, etc.) which have probably not made it possible to go as far as possible on certain issues – such as the strengthening of structures. The present (Czech) presidency is lost. But then with the Swedes, the Spaniards, the Belgians, we have interesting presidencies, very committed to the ESDP. And I trust. It takes time to build a European policy. My experience of the internal market, of the Euro, shows that it takes at least ten years to build a European system. For European defence, we are more on the horizon of 20 years.

• 20 years ! So we are halfway there. And we haven't reached the point of no return yet, in a way?

Yes. In my opinion the process is not irreversible. Not yet. With the Euro, we had reached a point of no return in May 1998. When, after several hours of negotiation, late at night, we had agreed not only on the creation of the European Central Bank, but also on his head. Defense Europe has not yet reached this point of no return.

• What is needed to move forward?

Concrete steps. For example. That each State makes available to the Union at least 3% of soldiers. If the six countries that carry the Eurocorps made it available, that would already be enormous progress. My conception of Europe is still that of Jean Monnet to unify Europe around major concrete projects. This is why I have always doubted that the draft Constitution had a chance of being realised. It seemed to me easier to pass the necessary amendments than to create an overly broad constitutional package.

• Europe has been unable in the past to intervene in the conflict in Yugoslavia. Would it be today?

Yes, we would probably be able to avoid the disaster. We have this capacity for joint action which we lacked in the 1990s. Many were ashamed at the time that Europe was incapable of avoiding this disaster. A possibility of European autonomous action was necessary, everyone felt it; but there was no common structure, only national structures.

A White Paper for European Defense and Security Strategy

• You advocate a White Paper. But what could it be used for? We already have a strategy...

We have thought enough about the strategy, we need this White Paper to address the implementation, in a systematic, complete way. The question is who would be able to lead this reflection? It will be difficult for the Council, the Commission and Parliament: one does not have access to industrial projects, the other has no competence over defence, the third is not its role. I believe it has to be done outside. I am therefore setting up this European Security Foundation to work on this subject. I want to draw inspiration from the process of the French White Paper, with seminars and discussions, one of the means of generating a real debate on European defense policy.

• What can we, should we talk about?

Several subjects are on the table: 1) command structures, 2) capabilities, for example the provision of the Eurocorps. 3) the personal situation of personnel in operations. (…) We have to analyze what our common interests are, for example vis-à-vis Russia. And what are the national interests that must be taken into account. There is also the necessary solidarity. The Baltic countries must also take an interest in the security of southern Europe, and vice versa.

• Europe must be a “power” then?

Above all, it must be an autonomous Europe. But to be autonomous, it must be powerful. This does not mean creating another superpower. Europe today surely has a stronger identity than any other international organization. It is really more about developing this European identity than supremacy.

• And the Russian proposal for a new structure for European security?

I'm not too much in favor of a new structure. We already have enough. But I believe the EU needs to take more care of its own security…

• That is to say the anti-missile shield

Yes. Don't hesitate to talk about it. Because the anti-missile shield has consequences at European level: what does that mean for our security. Is Europe fully protected? There is no doubt that the security of the United States will be improved with this system. But, for them, it is the third line of defense. But for us Europeans, it's our first line. And it's a very partial line. If there really is a danger, we have to come to an agreement with the Russians, and with the United States so that this corresponds to European needs. That is to say, having a command system that takes European needs into account; have an American, Russian and European system.

• Does this mean being flexible with Russia?

You have to be firm. But we must not shut ourselves up in reciprocal fear. We have to dialogue. In my opinion, it was a mistake to freeze the NATO-Russia Council (after the conflict with Georgia). We must always have forums for dialogue, keep the lines of communication always open.

The High Representative of the EU

• Who would you see as the future EU High Representative after Solana?

Solana did an excellent job given the limited means at his disposal. If there was a successor, characters like Michel Barnier or Carl Bildt would be interesting.

• Is it important that he comes from a big country?

No. Small or big country, it doesn't matter. I am against this idea of ​​a board of four major countries. It never works. To make the Franco-German couple work, for example, you always need a Belgian, a Luxembourger, a Dutchman. You only have to look at Airbus to verify that an exclusively Franco-German initiative without “small” countries does not work.

The economic crisis and its repercussions

• Precisely, the Airbus A400M seems in difficulty and the abandonment could be topical?

It would be a mistake to abandon the A400M. It is a key program for civilian and external operations. The question is whether there should be an interim question. Projects like this need to be continued. But you have to take experience into account. A planning and implementation structure, like the Airbus A400M, is not really optimal. In the future we need a more reasonable structure. The European Defense Agency and Occar (NB: Joint Organization for Armaments Cooperation) must follow the process. And these European structures must be strengthened.

• But the economic crisis hits. Defense not the main priority?

Faced with the crisis, it is necessary to check whether there are not industrial projects, civil and military equipment, which could be pushed forward, such as security research for the protection of external borders or critical infrastructures (pipelines for gas…). We can no longer afford to have so many duplications if we have less and less means. The argument “we must spend better” is more topical than ever.

(Nb: interview published in a shorter version in Europolitique)

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).

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