France has been thrust to the centre of questions over European defence, and funding constraints mean it needs to figure out how to work with key partners, panellists told a Friends of Europe debate in Brussels on 25 April. The best way forward might be for France to form bilateral defence partnerships, and back this up with an enhanced role for the European Union.
The debate focused on a new Friends of Europe report, ‘Crunch time: France and the future of European defence’. France’s economic stagnation over the last decade has reduced its political clout in Europe relative to Germany. Moreover, France has not achieved NATO’s defence spending target of two per cent of gross domestic product since 2009. But the country’s next president will have to deal with the fallout of several recent shocks, which the report called the “four horsemen of the Apocalypse”.
France has become very active militarily in recent years, and it has been suggested that the “cheese-eating surrender monkeys” derided during the Iraq war have morphed into the “frogs of war”. But French military and security forces have more missions than they can handle sustainably at present, the report said. The choices France makes now will shape the European landscape for years to come.
“France faces a crunch whoever is elected president in terms of security policy,” said Paul Taylor, a contributing editor at POLITICO and author of the report. “The army has done an amazing job – it has intervened more than any other European army in the last five years. At the same time, they are bumping up against the limits of their capacity.”
Event recordingFrance and the future of European defence
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This event is organised on the occasion of the launch of the Friends of Europe report “Crunch time: France and the future of European defence”.
IMAGE CREDIT: CC / Flickr – United Nations Photo
A changing leadership in the United States, globally increased defence spending, contested multilateralism, violent conflicts, social inequality, mass migration, Brexit, and Russia’s increased assertiveness beg a number of questions:
- What role for France as a European and global security actor?
- What threats and challenges will France face today and tomorrow?
- What can France tackle alone and what will require cooperation with allies and partners?
- How might the next French government re-think France’s policies towards Russia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and the Middle East?
Friends of Europe’s study examines how political parties and senior security and defence stakeholders in France and beyond approach France’s current and future strategic position. The study provides the incoming French government and the broader security community with recommendations and food for thought on the future of France’s defence policy.
Julia De Clerck-Sachsse
Advisor for Strategic Planning in the European External Action Service
Senior Fellow for Peace, Security and Defence, Friends of Europe; author or “After the Ice”, “Crossing the Wilderness”, and “Murky Waters”
Jaap de Hoop Scheffer
Minister of State, President of the Dutch Advisory Council on International Affairs, former NATO secretary-general and former Dutch foreign minister
With over ten years of experience teaching EU foreign policy and strategic communications to students and senior diplomats alike, Julia De Clerck-Sachsse currently works as advisor for Transatlantic Relations and EU Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy at the EEAS. She previously served as the speechwriter and public diplomacy advisor to the High Representative for EU Foreign and Security Policy, as well as in the German Federal Foreign Office and at the European Commission, where she was responsible for Strategic Foresight on global governance, development and security policy.
Giles Merritt is the Founder of Friends of Europe, and was its Secretary General between 1999 and 2015, and its Chairman between 2016 and 2020.
A former Financial Times Brussels Correspondent, Giles Merritt is a journalist, author and broadcaster who has for over four decades specialised in European public policy questions. In 2010 he was named by the Financial Times as one of its 30 most influential “Eurostars”, together with the European Commission’s President and NATO’s Secretary General.
Giles Merritt joined the Financial Times in 1968, and from 1972 until 1983 he was successively FT correspondent in Paris, Dublin/Belfast, and Brussels. From 1984 to 2010 he was a columnist for the International Herald Tribune (IHT), where his Op-Ed page articles ranged widely across EU political and economic issues.
In 1982 he published “World Out of Work”, an award-winning study of unemployment in industrialised countries. In 1991, his second book “The Challenge of Freedom” about the difficulties facing post-communist Eastern Europe was published in four languages. His book “Slippery Slope: Europe’s Troubled Future” (Oxford University Press 2016), was shortlisted for the European Book Prize.
Paul is a Senior Fellow at Friends of Europe and the author of Friends of Europe’s European Defence Cooperation report series. A Paris-based journalist, he also writes the “Europe at Large” column for Politico. He previously spent four decades working for Reuters as a foreign correspondent in Paris, Tehran, Bonn and Brussels, as bureau chief in Israel/Palestine, Berlin and Brussels, as chief correspondent in France, as diplomatic editor in London, and finally as European affairs editor. His assignments have included covering the Iranian revolution, the Cold War Euromissile crisis, the 1991 Gulf War, German reunification, the Maastricht summit, France in the 1990s, EU enlargement, the Eurozone crisis and the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt.
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