European Union (EU) leaders are storming ahead with their plans to create a pan-EU army, insisting that a joint defence force is necessary to combat Islamic terrorism and other threats.
Standing on the deck of the Italian aircraft carrier the Giuseppe Garibaldi, France’s President Francois Hollande, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi insisted that they were not downhearted by the British vote to leave the EU, but intend rather to increase the pace of integration, the Telegraph has reported.
Calling for more sharing of information between intelligence services, Merkel, who is known to favour deeper defence integration said: “We feel that faced with Islamist terrorism and in light of the civil war in Syria, that we need to do more for our internal and external security.”
Specifically, she called for a joint strategy in tackling the smuggling of migrants across the Mediterranean, and closer unity in protecting the EU’s external borders.
Mr Hollande agreed, saying: “Europe must ensure its own defence, and France is certainly playing its role.
“I also insisted on defence, because we want to ensure that there is greater co-ordination there, extra means and forces.”
Echoing the call for deeper integration of defences, Mr Renzi turned to the forthcoming departure of the British from the EU, and by extension the common defence policy.
“Many people felt that after Brexit Europe would come to an end, but that is not the case,” he said. “We respect the choice made by the British citizens, but at the same time we want to be able to turn the page on a new future.”
General Vincenzo Camporini, former chief of the general staff in charge of Italy’s military, has elsewhere asserted that building an EU Army would be easier now that Britain had decided to opt out.
“Every step forward was blocked [by the British], he told La Repubblica newspaper.
“The British position was crucial – everyone knew that without London, you couldn’t even begin to talk about a common European defence policy.”
The Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka has welcomed the call from the three leaders for further integration, and insisted that an EU Army is required.
“I am convinced that in the long term we won’t be able to do without a common European army,” he told a meeting of Czech diplomats in Prague on Monday, the Daily Mail has reported. He added that the new army must not compete with NATO, but should aim to be a “more actionable and reliable partner.”
Plans for an EU Army – which had previously been blocked by the British – were now on the agenda for the autumn summit of EU leaders due to take place in September, Mr Sobotka revealed, adding that he hoped it “will bring concrete proposals and pledges”.