24 SEPTEMBER 2010 | AFP
Europe decided Friday to explore how to strengthen military cooperation as France warned that drastic defence budget cuts would leave the continent under Sino-American domination.
French Defence Minister Herve Morin said he had told his European Union counterparts at a meeting in Ghent, Belgium, that plans to step up European military cooperation would falter without proper budgets.
"Most European states have given up on a simple ambition, which is that Europeans obtain a military tool allowing them to weigh on world affairs," he told reporters on the sidelines of a two-day meeting of EU defence chiefs.
"At the pace we're going, Europe is progressively becoming a protectorate, and in 50 years we will become a game in a balacing act between new powers in which we will be under a Sino-American dominion," he said.
Morin warned that "every country in the world is rearming" while European states that already had weak military budgets before the economic crisis were proceeding with new cuts.
"Do Europeans want to be actors on the international stage or do they want to be the actors in a play they are not writing?" he said.
Morin urged Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign and security policy chief, to take the mantle of Europe's military ambitions.
"It is up to Mrs Ashton to give this impetus," he said.
European governments should examine which capacities they want to keep sovereign and which they would share, he said. Concretely, European armies could cooperate in the fields of transport, logistics and training.
Poland backed calls to step up efforts nearly one year after the Lisbon Treaty, the EU's landmark reform treaty, came into force with provisions allowing states to enhance military cooperation on a permanent basis.
"We are not moving fast enough to apply the Lisbon Treaty in the area of defence," Polish Defence Minister Bogdan Klich told reporters.
Belgian Defence Minister Pieter De Crem told his counterparts at a dinner Thursday that there was "discontent about the way military cooperation has been conducted up to now."
His country holds the rotating presidency of the 27-nation EU.
The European Defence Agency was asked in Ghent to explore ways to enhance cooperation between EU states and report back at a formal meeting of defence ministers in December, De Crem told a news conference on Friday.
The EDA was established in 2004 to help EU states improve the bloc's defence capabilities but it has a budget of 30 million euros, a drop in the bucket compared to national defence budgets.
"We insisted on the strategic role EDA has to play in the future," he said.
A recent agreement between Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands to pool 200 transport aircraft under a single command stood out as a prime example of closer cooperation, De Crem said.
"This is the kind of cooperation we will develop more," he said, adding that Luxembourg and Spain had expressed interest in joining the arrangement.