French Armed Forces Minister makes plea for ‘properly financed’ European Defence Fund

Speaking to MEPs, Florence Parly said the EDF, a new EU defence initiative, could be “an important tool for economic recovery” from the pandemic.
Photo credit: Press Assotiation

By Martin Banks

06 Jul 2020

Addressing Parliament’s Security and Defence Subcommittee, Parly said the newly-created European Defence Fund (EDF) needed sufficient funding to help boost Europe’s defence as well as SMEs in the defence sector.

The EDF’s budget is yet to be determined as it forms part of the MMF, the EU’s next long-term budget. This is due to be discussed at an EU summit on 17 July.

The EDF would allow EU militaries to plan, spend and deploy together. Initially, it was hoped the budget would be as much as €13bn but it is now likely to be much less. This is because Member States are drastically cutting their defence budgets due to the Coronavirus outbreak.

Parly said, “Europe should not just be an assembly of building blocks but a real force and for this we need the European Defence Fund.”

She recalled that the Finnish government, during its recent presidency of the EU, had wanted to cut the EDF funding to €6.5bn.

“I expressed my strong opposition to this and we had to work hard to increase this sum to €9bn. But we still need more. That is why France, Germany, Spain and Italy have written to the High Representative Josep Borrell because we need an ambitious EDF more than ever.”

“Europe should not just be an assembly of building blocks but a real force and for this we need the European Defence Fund”

“The health crisis has shown how much we need the EU and the EDF can be an important tool for our economic recovery, supporting SMEs in the defence industry. I do believe that the EDF can be a driving force behind the recovery.”

The minister, speaking via a video link from Paris on Thursday, gave her assessment of the defence and security challenges facing Europe.

In her first address to the committee, she said, “A peaceful Europe is not a given and we see threats to our security every day. There are considerable conflicting forces at the gates of Europe including increasing tensions between the US and China, and the erosion of treaties - all of this taking place at a time of great instability.”

“The security situation has considerably worsened in our neighbourhood, including in Turkey and Libya, and while we are meant to be an alliance we do need better cooperation between the EU and NATO.”

Her comments come after it emerged on Thursday that France is temporarily pulling out of a NATO naval operation in the Mediterranean, in a move that indicates there was not enough support from the alliance following an aggressive encounter with Turkish ships last month.

She also addressed rising concerns about Russia saying, “We cannot hide the fact we are not happy with Russia’s role in Libya and that is why we need a discussion with Russia, not just about Libya but Ukraine, Syria and other conflicts.”

“We should not expect immediate results but hope that in the long term we will see such discussions with Moscow bear fruit.”

She said the health crisis had “put a spotlight on the fact that armies have provided an immediate response and a comfort to Member States.”

“The crisis has made it clear that we depend on third countries, especially in Asia. The EU was absent from the response to the crisis at the start when we needed true European solidarity, but it has now come up with a recovery plan.”

“We are not talking about protectionism but about the good use of EU taxpayers’ money. I am not just talking about large companies here but SMEs – the ones so important to our economies”

Parly, in a reference to a possible “European Army”, said, “we must be able to act together. Yes, we must not forget national interests, but we need to make sure we are able to react together. For example, we have 17 different types of tanks in Europe while the US has just one. We could, and should, better pool our efforts on resources like this.”

In reply to a question from German MEP David McAllister, chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, about her expectations of Germany which took over EU presidency on 1 July, Parly said, “I have high expectations of the presidency.”

“Germany is a key partner and one of the countries which are really committed to building European defence and ambitious projects. I am sure it will live up to these expectations.”

“I hope the presidency will finally wrap up the EDF budget. I am not the first person to say how important this is. We need an ambitious budget for the EDF.”

“It’s important we ensure the funding goes to benefit European companies. This is a key principle that must be respected. We are not talking about protectionism but about the good use of EU taxpayers’ money. I am not just talking about large companies here but SMEs – the ones so important to our economies.”

Committee chair Nathalie Loiseau, a French RE member, said, “The crisis has thrown Europe’s vulnerability into the spotlight and our armed forces contributed, often with improvised cooperation.”

“Conflicts have not abated but increased and Europe has been targeted by fake news campaigners and cyber-attacks. EU-US tensions have taken hold and all this has plunged us into uncertainty. But Europe must not be a mere observer to such events but be at the table and step up its level of ambition on security and defence.”

Further comment came from Jerome Riviere, an ID member from France, who warned that a European Army would “open up a pandora’s box” while Polish ECR member Witold Jan Waszczykowski, said, “Russia should be made to respect international laws: don’t forget that it has been in Ukraine for six years now.”

Hannah Neumann, a German Greens MEP, called for “more oversight” on EU arms exports, saying, “we need a paradigm shift on arms exports from Europe.”

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