Macrons EU Army plan in tatters – NATO slaps down French leaders latest defence pledge

Macron: James Shields discusses calls for an EU army

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Europe has no need for new structures related to European Union defence strategy, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Friday, a day after French President Emmanuel Macron called for a rethink of EU defence.

President Macron said on Thursday the EU needed to define a new defence strategy that would strengthen its ability to defend itself, even though the transatlantic NATO alliance remained useful and effective.

Speaking at a joint news conference with the French foreign and defence ministers in Paris, Mr Stoltenberg said: “What we need is more capabilities, and not new structures competing for capabilities.”

The French President said on Thursday that reinforcing Europe’s sovereignty – from ensuring its security and protecting its businesses to better controlling migration – will be a key aim of France’s European Union presidency.

France takes on the rotating six-month presidency of the EU at a time of crises, including the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic aftermath, tensions with Russia, and heightened business rivalries with China and the United States.

Speaking at a news conference at which he presented France’s January-to-June EU programme, Mr Macron said: “We must move from a Europe of cooperation within our borders to a Europe that is powerful in the world, fully sovereign, free in its choices and master of its destiny.”

A major priority, he said, would be immigration, at a time when Belarus stands accused of engineering a refugee crisis by flying migrants in the Middle East and pushing them to attempt to illegally cross its borders into EU states Poland and Lithuania.

Among France’s proposals will be setting up an emergency reaction force to assist EU states facing crises at their borders, Mr Macron said.

He also wants the bloc to have regular political meetings on migration – like eurozone states already do on economic matters.

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The bloc has been deeply divided for years in its response to immigration and how to police the common external borders of its Schengen area, and it remains to be seen how much France can achieve during its presidency of the EU Council of Ministers – which mostly encompasses the agenda for meetings.

But President Macron faces a presidential election in April, and conservative and far-right parties are likely to make migration, on which he is viewed by some as a soft touch, a campaign issue.

Key also to ensuring the EU’s sovereignty is to progress on defence issues, the French leader added.

Since his election in 2017, Mr Macron has been pushing for the EU to stand independent in terms of security, and no longer rely solely on US military protection inherited from World War Two.

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A major aspect there will be pushing for an EU carbon border tax on a series of imports, something already put forward by the EU’s executive Commission to protect European industries from competitors abroad whose manufacturers can produce at lower cost because they are not charged for their carbon output.

Turning to the economic impact of COVID-19, Mr Macron said he would organise an EU growth summit in March.

Boosting the bloc’s growth model would require adjusting budget rules to make them more simplified and transparent, he said.

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