News BlogEU Defense (Doctrine)

A dinner, at 27, very political but without concrete

(BRUSSELS2) (In Ghent) The Thursday evening dinner, between ministers alone, was in everyone's opinion a good opportunity for discussion, informally, very political. It almost got off to a bad start. First of all, Cathy Ashton, who spoke by video conference, had to wait a few long minutes, all alone, in front of her screen, for the ministers to join the meeting room, sit down at the table and listen to her. And the beginnings of the discussion were rather laborious. Some ministers began to read their papers. And we could fear that the dinner would be, therefore, a discussion for nothing. Then the ministers relaxed, “took their noses up from their plates and we began to speak freely”, as one participant recounts. The conversation then turned to very political questions…

The French Minister of Defense, Hervé Morin, was the most direct: “We must not hide behind the crisis; there is currently an absence of political will. Without pooling and stronger cooperation, Europe will lose its capacity for expertise. We have to make decisions. Today no European state is capable of playing a complete role at the industrial level. » Basically, it will be Europe or nothing (Also read: about the minister, hair-raising).

Strengthen the European Defense Agency, yes but

German Minister Karl Theodor Zu Gutenberg also insisted on the need to cooperate and strengthen the European Defense Agency. But he also expressed certain nuances, in particular the “national limits” to this cooperation which must be taken into account, he added. In Germany (NB: but also in several other countries), “we have an obligation to have all operations approved by the Bundestag; which sets limits. This is the case in Afghanistan where the Germans decided to provide 90 more instructors for the Afghan army, but by withdrawing the Tornado crews. This is in order not to cross the limit set by the Bundestag and not to use the reserve.

Several ministers therefore stressed the need to find more cooperation and strengthen defense Europe, sometimes with nuances. As the Belgian Minister of Defense, host of the meeting, Pieter de Crem, summarized: “the economic context plays a role. We feel a need to cooperate and optimize all means. There are already concrete results. » But we also feel a certain “ dissatisfaction with the way in which military cooperation has been conducted until today. This cooperation must improve. We felt a strong policy to really realize the instruments and ambitions of Lisbon. »

The British Quack

Only hiccup. The British minister, Gérard Howarth, made a point of reminding his counterparts of tradition. There is a cooperation forum, “it’s NATO”, highlighting, according to certain participants, the current weakness of the European Defense Agency, its lack of pragmatism and concrete projects… In short, the Kingdom -United still does not want to hear about defense Europe and prefers bilateral cooperation 10 times better…

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

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).