UK has more influence inside Europe: French defence minister
22 June 2016
This Thursday, the British people will have to decide about their European future. The United Kingdom is a grand and old nation that has had a major role in the emergence of democracy, has been the world’s major power for decades, has fought two World wars with bravery and strategic patience and has played an active role in building peace and security within Europe and abroad over the last seventy years.
I do not need to highlight the importance of the upcoming vote, for the UK, as well as for Europe. I do not think that the British people needs to be lectured about what it should do or not. Today, I just think that the European citizens outside the UK should underscore what deep sense of shared interests and destiny justifies in our view the presence of the UK within the European family. Six months ago, in the wake of the Paris attacks, I said in a British newspaper how much France needed the United Kingdom to answer its call, under article 42.7 of the Treaty of the European Union, to fight in Syria against our common enemy.
The UK answered France’s call and is today, as always, on top of our main European partners when we deal with issues related to defence and security. I am writing today with the same spirit to convey my thoughts as Minister of Defence of one of your closest neighbours and allies.
Since 1995, the UK and France have made a very simple yet very powerful statement, repeated and given legal standing in the Lancaster House Treaty: we “do not see situations arising in which the vital interests of either Party could be threatened without the vital interests of the other also being threatened”.
France and the UK may be Europe’s two strongest military powers, but we now need to combine our strengths and capabilities, and more, to be able to maintain their influence in the world. We do it day by day, side by side, among others as permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, Allies within NATO and Member States of the EU.
As concerns defence, remaining a Member State of the EU genuinely makes the UK stronger.
In a few months, France will join the UK in our effort to enhance our military presence in Eastern Europe, in the framework of the enhanced forward presence decided by NATO Allies in the Baltic States and Poland. This display of solidarity towards our European Allies shows our resolve to deal with firmness with the security challenges arising from our eastern flank. There the EU, in complement of our action within NATO, has been a major factor in displaying a coherent political approach with our sanctions being an efficient tool to bring back Moscow to the negotiating table, as had happened with Iran before, in the context of our negotiation on its nuclear program.
All Allies in NATO, including the United States, are now convinced that a stronger EU means a stronger Alliance and more security for us all. The EU reinforced NATO’s defence pledge of a 2% of GDP dedicated to defence by reaffirming the need for EU Member states to allocate a sufficient level of defence expenditures. It is also a place where interoperability of European countries, most of which are also member of the Alliance, is reinforced, where the European military learn to work together.
On multiple occasions the UK has been able to convince other Europeans of the importance of a specific strategic issue for international peace – Somalia is one of many examples – or global prosperity – operation EUNAVFOR Atalanta successfully fighting piracy when it threatened to disrupt international trade in the Indian Ocean. Such an influential role can only be achieved through the EU, being part of it and trying to make it work the best we can. This is a contribution to peace, stability and wealth, both globally and for the UK, which should not be understated. Right now, we are currently working together on extending the mandate of the European naval operation in the Mediterranean so that is able to impose the arms embargo on Libya, which will in turn reinforce the unity government recently set in place there.
It would not make sense to renounce the UK’s ability to influence Europe’s decisions. As of today, there are some 246 British personnel in EU missions and operations and over 3 000 people in total, from all over Europe, in these missions and operations. That means that the UK can literally more than multiply its influence if it is able to promote its priorities within Europe.
At the same time, being part of the Union does not make France a lesser France, or the UK a lesser UK. When France intervened militarily in Mali in January 2013 to prevent jihadi groups to take over the country, it did so by its own, at the request of the government in Bamako, and the same goes for our interventions in the Levant or in the Central African Republic where we were able to put an end to massacres there.
Over the last four years, I have travelled the world from one region in crisis to another; I have engaged many partners, key to France’s security and prosperity. I know we live in a dangerous world, that what we see outside of our borders seems and indeed is threatening. I also know that neither France, nor the United Kingdom, can address these threats by opting for a “strategic retreat” beyond some kind of imaginary Maginot line. We need to remain involved in the world’s affairs, involved in Europe. This is in our DNA, this is our vital interest, and this is the best answer to the challenges ahead of us. It does not change our ability to remain French or British at the same time.
What we need now is to remain focused on the vital issues our countries are confronted with, not to be consumed by inextricable debates on how to handle UK’s decision to leave Europe.
Europe will be stronger with the UK, and the UK will be more secure and more influential if it remains with us.