French Seek Permanent EU Defense Fund

French President François HollandeIn an effort to put its allies on the spot, President François Hollande is poised to demand, at a Brussels summit on Thursday, that the EU sets up a permanent fund to finance operations such as France’s intervention in the Central African Republic.

Paris sent 1,600 troops to the CAR this month, with UN Security Council backing, to try to stem a descent into violent anarchy in its former colony. That followed French military intervention in Mali, another former colony, in January to stop Islamist militants overthrowing the state.

In both cases, France’s EU allies have given their full political backing to the operations, accepting that Europe’s security interests were at stake. They pledged financial and training support for African forces also involved, plus humanitarian aid. Some operational backing has also been forthcoming, notably transport and other logistical help. Laurent Fabius, foreign minister, said on Tuesday some troops from unspecified European states would join the CAR operation – in addition to other operational backing, notably transport and other logistical help.

But there has been exasperation in Paris at the lack of a fuller military response, exposing the failure of France’s longtime efforts to persuade the EU to develop a robust defence posture, with operational capabilities independent of Nato.

“Mali was a test and Europe failed the test. There is no independent European military capacity or any political willingness to pursue a European defence policy,” bemoaned a report by the French Senate’s foreign affairs and defence committee.

France has pushed to put defence policy on the agenda of an EU summit this week for the first time since 2008. But expectations of a significant step towards the kind of defence stance sought by Paris are low. Even the call for an operational fund has received a cool response.

“The problem is that France has decided – for good reasons, by the way – to do this [CAR] operation unilaterally,” said one senior EU official involved in summit negotiations. “Then you expect Europe to pay. It’s not that simple.”

A senior French official acknowledged that there was no question of eliciting funds this week for the Mali or CAR actions. Paris will settle for a commitment to study the issue for future operations, he said.

Image: French President François Hollande (photo: European Commission)