BRUSSELS (Reuters) -French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly told her NATO counterparts on Friday not to fear the European Union’s defence plans, saying that the United States will benefit and any European capabilities will strengthen the alliance.
The remarks, made at a NATO defence ministers meeting and shared with reporters, sought to end months of uncertainty about whether the latest EU effort to develop weapons and forces would be in competition with the alliance.
“When I hear some defensive statements on European defence and when I observe certain threats, including within this organisation, I say: ‘don’t be afraid!’,” Parly told a session that included the EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell.
“European defence isn’t being built in opposition to NATO, quite the contrary: a stronger Europe will contribute to a strengthened and more resilient alliance,” Parly said.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin responded positively in his public remarks, saying he welcomed a more capable European defence, echoing a joint statement in September issued by the French and U.S. presidents.
“What we’d like to see are initiatives that are complementary to the types of things that NATO is doing,” Austin told a news conference.
He urged NATO allies to live up to their “number one job” of “credible deterrence and defence”.
Austin also suggested there were no contradictions between a European and an American strategy in the Indo-Pacific, saying that NATO allies were working together to counter China’s military rise. Washington incensed Paris in September by agreeing a pact, known as AUKUS, with Australia and Britain that cost France a submarine deal with the Australian navy.
Austin pledged to “collectively work to ensure that the Indo-Pacific area region remains free and open.”
He also said the United States would continue to help Taiwan with the capabilities it needed to defend itself.
NEW WEAPONS NOT ‘NEW STRUCTURES’
While European countries have highly-trained soldiers and modern cyber, naval and air power, any EU combat mission would likely lack the kind of support that the United States provides, such as long-range air transport, command and control capabilities, logistics support and intelligence.
Britain, no longer a member of the EU, also says the EU can play a supporting role to NATO. But Britain’s Defence Secretary Ben Wallace on Thursday described any attempt to build a European army as a distraction, telling reporters it was a “red herring” and that there was “absolutely no point in sticking European berets on a whole load of people”.
Of the 27 EU states, 21 are also members of the 30-strong NATO, but the United States has long argued that the bloc should be able to do more to manage the crises on its borders.
In March next year, the EU aims to agree a master military strategy document to define future threats, while focusing on developing weapons together, as well as outlining a new EU intervention force that could intervene in crises.
Eastern European states fearful of Russia are very wary of any shift in focus away from NATO. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warned against duplication. “What is needed are more capabilities, not new structures,” he told a news conference.
(Reporting by Robin Emmott; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Angus MacSwan)