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4/27/17

EU France’s next big challenge: defense policy – by Paul Taylor

French voters face a stark choice on May 7 between retreating into isolationism or taking the lead in shaping a European defense policy to respond to Islamic terrorism, an unstable neighborhood, a resurgent Russia, an uncertain America and a rising China.

France prizes its strategic autonomy but can no longer afford to go it alone as a pocket superpower.

That means the two options represented by the finalists in the presidential election — independent centrist Emmanuel Macron and anti-EU nationalist Marine Le Pen — represent a crucial fork in the road when it comes to France’s defense and foreign policy.

Macron, the front-runner and most pro-European of the 11 first round contenders, advocates closer European defense integration compatible with NATO as part of a strengthened EU and eurozone.

Le Pen wants to pull France out of NATO’s military wing, restore border controls, abandon the euro and call a referendum on France’s EU membership, raise protectionist trade barriers and pursue a strictly national defense policy.

If Macron wins, he has a historic opportunity to lead Europe in defense provided he eschews traditional French arrogance toward smaller EU countries and embraces a more comprehensive approach to security that combines “hard security” with diplomacy, development aid, open trade and institution building.

He will also need to jettison a half-baked campaign promise to restore a one-month compulsory military service period for all young French people, which would be costly and yield no extra military capability.

The 39-year-old political novice may also have to face down resistance in the high command, political establishment and defense industries to closer EU cooperation on defense policy, arms production and military technology.

Read more: France’s next big challenge: defense policy – POLITICO

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