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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.”
- Crunch time: France and the future of European defence - report available in English and in French
- Event page
- Event summary, which includes podcast and photo gallery
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