French President Emmanuel Macron called on Tuesday for a "real European army" that allowed the bloc to defend itself against Russia and even against the United States, an extremely sensitive idea among EU countries jealously protecting their defense ,
Macron, who has been campaigning for a common European Union force since taking power, said that Europe must be less dependent on American power, not least after US President Donald Trump announced that it was dating back to a Cold War nuclear deal War comes out.
"We need to protect ourselves with China, Russia and even the United States," Macron said in his first radio interview on Europe 1 since he became president in May 2017.
"We will not protect the Europeans if we do not choose a true European army."
Macron has led the creation of a non-NATO European force of nine countries that could rapidly conduct a joint military operation, evacuate civilians from a war zone, or provide assistance after a natural disaster.
For the first time, the Ministers of Defense of the nine countries will meet in Paris on Wednesday to discuss details of the operation of the force.
According to a source close to the talks, Finland will be the tenth country involved in the project.
– Touchy topic –
The broader EU will significantly increase its defense budget from 2021 onward and provide around 13 billion euros ($ 15 billion) in seven years to research and develop new equipment.
An initiative called PESCO has committed 25 EU countries to better coordinate their defense spending and possibly their operations.
But the discussion about an "EU army", an idea that has been borne by European federalists for years, remains a very sensitive issue among member states that want to defend their sovereignty.
A French source said Macron spoke of a more coordinated defense than of a truly supranational military spanning the continent.
The President "used the strong image of a" European army "as a reminder" of the need for closer defense relations. "
European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said the EU supports "a more meaningful and assertive defense identity," but that collaboration should start with joint research and procurement.
"I do not think this defense identity will begin with an EU army," he said.
"We have to start with the rest and we'll see that someday."
Bruno Alomar, a professor at the French War School training high-ranking military officials, said Macron's vision of a close-knit European defense force was still a long way off.
"The idea of creating a common strategic culture is not bad," he told AFP.
"But there is a massive gap between the European defense that Emmanuel Macron dreams of and the reality of very heated disagreements between European partners."
– fear of Russian interference –
Macron, which hosts dozens of world leaders on Sunday in honor of 100 years since the end of the First World War, said the 70 years of peace in Europe are not self-evident.
"It has never been so long for thousands of years," he said in an interview recorded on Monday evening in Verdun, northeastern France, as part of a week-long tour of former battlefields.
In the face of "a Russia that is at our borders and has shown that it can be a threat," Macron argued, "We need a Europe that defends itself better without relying solely on the United States."
In another obvious reference to Russia, he insisted that "invading cyberspace and intervening in our democracies" required a unified response.
The centralist French leader has been conducting a vocal war against nationalism in recent days as he prepares to host leaders such as Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In the run-up to next May's European Parliament elections, which many observers have billed as a struggle between Macron-style pro-Europeans and right-wing populists, he said politicians need to respond to voter fear and anger.
Europe "has probably become too ultra-liberal," he said, "which does not allow the middle class to live well".
French right-wing leader Marine Le Pen – one of the targets of Macron's anti-nationalist tirades – accused him of trying to turn Europe into an empire.
"And they were empires that had the origins of the First World War, not nations," she told Radio Classique.
During the centenary commemoration of the First World War in France, President Emmanuel Macron said Europe must reduce its dependence on American power
Macron was at the forefront of creating a non-NATO European force from nine countries that could quickly conduct a joint military operation, evacuate civilians from a war zone, or provide assistance after a natural disaster
The talk of an "EU army", an idea that has been borne for years by European federalists, remains a very sensitive issue among member states that want to defend their sovereignty
Macron said: "A Russia that is at our borders and has shown that it can be a threat" Europe had to defend itself better without relying on the US alone