(Reuters) – EU leaders will discuss ways to strengthen the bloc’s defence after the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan and the dispute with the U.S. over a scrapped submarine deal, European Commission deputy head Maros Sefcovic said on Tuesday.
“I think that after Kabul, after (the security agreement between the United States, Australia and Britain) AUKUS, this was, I would say the natural conclusion, that we need to focus more on the strategic autonomy,” Sefcovic told reporters after a meeting of the EU’s European affairs ministers in Brussels.
“These are such crucial discussions that they clearly warrant the discussion at the top political leadership, of the heads of state and government,” he added, without specifying which EU summit would discuss the issue.
EU leaders are meeting on Oct 5/6 to talk about the relationship with China, the Taliban’s takeover in Kabul and the Western Balkans and will meet again on Oct 21/22.
The chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan prompted fresh calls for the creation of a European rapid reaction force to reduce the bloc’s dependence on the U.S. military.
The discussion gathered pace after Australia last week scrapped a $40 billion submarine contract with France in favour of a deal with the U.S. and Britain, seen as further proof of Washington’s focus shifting towards China.
EU efforts to establish a rapid reaction force have been paralysed for more than a decade despite the creation in 2007 of a system of battlegroups of 1,500 troops that have never been used due to disputes over funding and a reluctance to deploy.
(Reporting by Sabine Siebold, Philip Blenkinsop, John Chalmers, Gabriela Baczynska; editing by Philippa Fletcher)