Defense ministers from nine European countries will meet in Paris on Wednesday, November 7 to set out plans for a joint force that could rapidly be deployed in response to a conflict or natural disaster.
Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Estonia and Portugal have joined the French-led project – along with the United Kingdom, just as Brexit looms.
A source close to the talks said Finland is also set to join the European Intervention Initiative, known as EI2, which would be independent of both the European Union and NATO.
The nine states agreed on June 25 to form the joint military force designed to rapidly deploy around the world.
The meeting comes a day after French President Emmanuel Macron, who has pushed for a more muscular European defense policy since his arrival in power last year, called for a “real European army.”
Europe can ensure its own protection against Russia and even, under an unpredictable President Donald Trump, the United States, only through united defense, he said.
“We need a Europe which defends itself better alone, without just depending on the United States,” he said.
But the idea of an “E.U. army” is highly sensitive in member states that jealously guard defense as a matter of national sovereignty.
A French government source later played down Macron’s comments, saying that he was not talking about a truly supranational military spanning the continent.
The idea behind EI2 is to be able to rapidly mount a joint military operation, evacuate civilians, or provide aid after a disaster.
In May, U.K. junior defense minister Frederick Curzon said that London was “very keen to support” plans for a military force that could be deployed rapidly to deal with crises.
Twenty-five E.U. members signed the Permanent Structured Cooperation on security and defense (PESCO) agreement in December, but it’s unclear whether the U.K. will be able to participate after leaving the bloc.
The U.K. has traditionally opposed anything resembling a ‘European army’ but is eager to back smaller initiatives outside the scope of the E.U.
The U.S. and NATO have also expressed concerns about PESCO, with U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis apparently worrying about it “pulling resources or capabilities away from NATO.”
Wednesday’s meeting is intended to lay out a “roadmap” identifying the nine countries’ priorities – including geographical zones of particular interest – which senior military officials will develop from Thursday.
“It’s about reinforcing Europeans’ capacity to act independently to guarantee their security whenever that’s necessary,” said an aide to France’s Minster for the Armed Forces Florence Parly.
Plans for EI2 come as Trump has repeatedly distanced himself from the NATO military alliance, which has underpinned European security since World War II.
With reporting from AFP