EU Defense (Doctrine)

No European military HQ: a personal failure for Cathy Ashton (Maj)

Alain Juppé and William Hague at the start of the Council of Ministers (credit: Council of the EU)

(BRUSSELS2) Discussions on the idea of ​​a European military headquarters collapsed on Monday (July 18) at the Council of Foreign Ministers due to a British veto. For anyone reading this blog, this is no surprise (*). And the British minister, William Hague, left no doubt about the room for negotiation. He repeated that “ this government like previous governments (and future governments) did not and would never accept this idea ". Then he repeated the traditional British arguments: risk of duplication with NATO structures, higher cost than existing structures, improving the structures may be enough.

British isolation

But William Hague found himself rather isolated around the Council table. The member states all agreed on the interest of this project, even if some (like Ireland which always remains very cautious about the EU's military advances or Lithuania) were keen to express certain nuances. This almost unanimity, on this delicate subject, testifies to a clear evolution since the “Summit of the Pralines” where France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg were rather alone in proposing this option of a European HQ in the face of the clan of “Iraqis”. ” (countries which defended the intervention in Iraq).

The High Representative, however, did not take advantage of this balance of power which worked in her favor and immediately preferred to present a compromise proposal. This proposal amounted to a downward review of its ambitions, since reference was no longer made to the “options in the report” but only to possible options. A small correction, apparently innocuous, which in fact meant a real step backwards, a real loosening of the limits since it amounted to removing the mandate that the Council would have given to it to work on one of the two options presented (**).

A reconstituted Franco-German couple

This proposal was not really welcomed by the Council. The French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Alain Juppé, having had to be absent, it was his German counterpart Guido Westerwelle who defended the position of the “Weimar” (Germany, France, Poland) and refused the new formulation. “ It doesn't suit me or Alain. » he explained. " This is not what our fellow citizens want. We need a European HQ. We want to mention the report options. » he mentioned in substance according to the comments reported to 'B2'.

Several ministers around the table agreed. " The discussion was difficult “, recognized at the end of the meeting, the Polish Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, according to my Polish colleagues. Corn " the vast majority of countries believe that we must continue to work on the basis of the report, studying in detail the possibilities offered, obviously taking into account the costs ". But the High Representative preferred to draw the conclusion from " the lack of agreement on the conclusions. Too bad we will not draw any conclusions on the subject she explained, seemingly in a hurry to move on and bury her own report.

the French diplomatic team in full reflection (Ph Etienne, Al Juppé, Jl Falconi) (credit: Council of the EU)

A first-class funeral that the member countries of the Weimar triangle do not want. At the end of the meeting, they published a press release (*) in which they notably recalled that: “ The High Representative's report remains on the table. Our three countries would like it to continue working on this basis, with the Member States”. More generally, they point out, “Germany, France and Poland want a revival of European defence, which is ever more necessary in a context marked by the multiplication of crises, the limitation of national resources and the growing expectations with regard to the 'European Union. »

A personal defeat for the High Representative

Faced with a planned and predictable veto, the High Representative did nothing either to mollify it or to circumvent it. In front of the press, she even hid the real balance of power and preferred to present the British position as a historical inevitability against which nothing can be done. “ Unanimity is the rule in this area » she explained to justify herself. Which is both a political and legal error (the Lisbon Treaty giving possibilities which did not exist in the past).

In this case, Catherine Ashton therefore behaved more like a faithful “poodle” of British interests than like an independent High Representative applying the European Treaties. She also missed a personal opportunity to prove her ability. Damage ! There, she had the perfect opportunity to demonstrate what many personalities criticize her for: her lack of audacity, her lack of appetite for security and defense issues, her British tropism, her talent for preferring her personal career. on the other side of the Channel rather than the general interest of an entire continent, etc.

(*) Read also:

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).

3 thoughts on “No European military HQ: a personal failure for Cathy Ashton (Maj)"

  • Why should a British diplomatic success (even the result of selfish stubbornness) correspond to a personal failure of Lady Ashton? Who would still doubt that this lady, armed with her pusillanimity and a formidable efficiency in making European diplomacy unsympathetic, is under London's orders?

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