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EU Defense Cooperation: Threat or Benefit for NATO? - by Markus Heinrich

Has the time come for the EU to say "bye-bye NATO" ?
Britain has always been a somewhat half-hearted member of the EU. The country has been reluctant to hand over competences to Brussels and principally opposed to “ever closer union” — even as it was eager to widen the EU’s membership.

As a reluctant (and soon to be ex) participant in European integration, the British worldview has been, and continues to be, Atlanticist rather than European.

As a firmly Altanticist nation, Britain has been vehemently opposed to any EU military structures. It deemed NATO as the one and only framework for providing security in the Euro-Atlantic area.

But with Britain set to leave the EU some time in 2019 – based on Theresa May’s announcement that Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty will be triggered in March 2017 and the assumption that a successful exit is negotiated within the two-year time limit – a major obstacle to EU defense cooperation will be removed in the foreseeable future.

Negotiating Brexit will be a difficult and complex process that will occupy politicians and diplomats on both sides of the English Channel for some time. Even so, there are signs that the EU is determined that this will not prevent its defense agenda from progressing.

France and Germany have been leading calls for enhanced European defense cooperation (such as a permanent EU military headquarters and the sharing of military assets).

The Franco-German proposals were outlined by French defense minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and his German counterpart Ursula von der Leyen in September 2016.

Von der Leyen called for a European defense union – initially comprised of a core group, but open to all EU members – comparing it to a “Schengen of defense.”

The recent EU summit in Bratislava – at which Britain was not represented – saw Franco-German proposals for defense cooperation generally well received by member states. The plan is therefore not just a Franco-German objective, but is likely to enjoy wider support in a 28-1 member EU.

A concrete example of how European defense collaboration could benefit from Brexit is the European Defence Agency (EDA).

The EDA was established in 2004 to “support the Member States and the Council in their effort to improve European defense capabilities in the field of crisis management and to sustain the European Security and Defence Policy as it stands now and develops in the future.” Its three main missions are to:

1. Support the development of European defense capabilities and military cooperation

2. Stimulate defense research and technology to strengthen Europe’s defense industry

3. Act as a military interface to EU policies

An increase in the EDA’s meager budget has been vetoed in the past by Britain. With its veto gone post Brexit – and given the generally positive reception of the Franco-German proposals at the Bratislava summit – a future budget increase for the EDA is a distinct possibility. 

Read more: EU Defense Cooperation: Threat or Benefit for NATO? - The Globalist

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