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Le Drian in Malta: goodbye… and maybe see you soon. With a hint of bitterness

A notable absentee... in the family photo at the informal meeting of Defense Ministers, in the courtyard of the Grand Master's Palace in Malta (credit: Maltese Presidency of the EU)

(B2) The French Minister of Defense, Jean-Yves Le Drian, bid farewell to his European colleagues after five intensive years spent at the head of the Ministry of Defense and on the question of European defense. This is one of the pillars of the Council which is leaving.

The Minister is, in fact, the veteran of the Council, according to our information (read EU (and NATO) defense ministers. Who is who ?) shortly before the Dutch Jeanine Plaschaert (appointed in November 2012).

Unrewarded efforts

A convinced European, the Breton will have spared no effort to see a more European defense move forward, during meetings but also countless trips to European capitals. But goodwill and ambition were not enough. And, on the French side, even if no one officially admits it, it is rather disappointment that is there and a certain bitterness that dominates. Certainly on many subjects – the financing of defense research, the strengthening of military capacities in third countries (CBSD), the solidarity clause, structured cooperation, battle groups, etc. – progress has been made. But we could rather speak of conceptual unblocking, of political progress, in concepts, which still remain to be implemented and strengthened.

Too slow an evolution compared to reality

The reality is that Europeans have evolved… at their own pace. But developments in neighborhood security have been faster, more significant and more threatening. European hesitations and procrastination in a whirling world were no longer appropriate. And the global situation would have required a much faster and stronger reaction and decision-making.

A kind of European depression in Paris

As a result, the French resigned themselves to acting alone, even if it meant being joined by the Europeans. There is thus a sort of European depression in Paris where, despairing of seeing the Europeans act, we now prefer to work bilaterally, with the British on one side, the Spanish on the other (on Operation Barkhane for example) , or the Germans elsewhere and, in general, with the African brothers in arms, less wealthy but much more determined. Between France and the Europeans, it is a bit of a disappointed love at the wrong time: when one wants, the other does not want; when the other changes his mind and is willing, the first has gone elsewhere.

The bilateral rather than the European collective

From the military side, it is very clear in any case. A French officer will prefer to work with a Briton, with whom he shares certain ideas, starting with a certain historical heritage of the first intervention... than with Europeans. “It’s complicated, it’s slow and, ultimately, not very effective » is the leitmotif, most often heard in the ranks not only of the rank and file officers but also of the senior officers in Paris, up to the first of them, the chief of staff, Pierre de Villiers. And this sentence also became the dominant feeling in those around Le Drian. The minister was also careful not to make an appearance before the press in Malta. A certain normal prudence to avoid being caught in the trap of political declarations in between two rounds crucial for the future of the minister but also perhaps to avoid having to admit to journalists a certain European bitterness that, past the cameras and microphones , at the Hôtel de Brienne (headquarters of the Ministry of Defense), there is no hiding.

A farewell that may also be a goodbye

Le Drian, however, obtained a strong tribute from his European counterparts. Asked by B2 to know if it was a farewell or a goodbye that the ministers had said to him, the High Representative of the Union replied, with a smile (and in French) “ Both… He said goodbye. And we thanked him because the results we have had in this last period in the field of European security and defense are also largely thanks to France and the work of Minister Le Drian. So he said goodbye… And we said maybe see you soon. But it depends on other dynamics on which I do not necessarily want to comment, more linked to an electoral calendar than to European defense. »

(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).

One thought on “Le Drian in Malta: goodbye… and maybe see you soon. With a hint of bitterness"

  • Charles Hoursain

    According to my “information” Mr Le Drian was not a “bad” Minister of Defence. Before, we said “Minister of War”…. “Defence” has been renamed, but wars still exist, under influences and under a terrible weapon "disinformation".. In short, I did not accept that Mr Le Drian had "sold" the "Defence" to Macron, well before the campaign... He would therefore have betrayed the line of the PS and his candidate..For a hypothetical place under Macron...In the army, we don't like traitors...Le Drian would have had to resign from his post as Minister of Defense of the socialist government, to join Macron..Isn't- it not?

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