Macron election victory could see EU transform into ‘historic’ military power

Macron criticised over push for EU army by Italian MEP

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Mr Macron has successfully won five more years as France’s President after a decisive victory over his rival Marine Le Pen. He won by 58.55 percent to 41.45 percent, a greater margin than expected. However, Ms Len Pen secured the far-right’s highest share of the vote yet.

Speaking to supporters at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, Mr Macron said that now the election was over, he would be a “president for all”.

He is the first sitting president in 20 years to be re-elected, and will now work to roll out a raft of election pledges, from tackling the cost of living crisis to immigration and community relations.

Among the topics Mr Macron has hinted at focusing on in recent years is the creation of an EU army.

The Frenchman is a Europhile through and through, and currently holds the presidency of the Council of Europe.

France is a founding member of the EU and is now its second-largest financial backer, and so has deep ties to the bloc.

Mr Macron wants to continue this leading role within Brussels, using the EU council post to champion solidarity and democracy as being at the heart of the European project.

His plans for the next five years include enhancing the rights of Europeans, reducing European dependence on imported coal, gas and oil, and increasing the bloc’s reliance on its own essential infrastructure and technologies.

Among the issues he has repeatedly returned to is the drive for a common approach in the use of European armies, with the aim of making Europe a military power in itself.

While Mr Macron’s calls for an EU army are not new, recent strategic errors seen in Afghanistan and a war in Europe have combined to make his argument as salient as ever.

In March, he explicitly called on the EU to move towards the creation of a military outfit after President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Such direct and overt rhetoric has been mostly associated with eccentric figures in Brussels, like the Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstadt.

On hearing Mr Macron’s election victory, Mr Verhofstadt tweeted: “President Macron reelected…

“Much more than relief — an historic opportunity to profoundly reform the European Union’s defence, health, energy, democracy… as outlined in the radical proposals of the Conference on the Future of Europe!”

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After Brexit, France remains the EU’s only major military power.

With Mr Macron’s military vision, this means French companies would be in pole position to benefit from bumper defence contracts handed out by Brussels.

Only recently did Paris lose out on a multi-billion dollar Australian submarine contract to Britain and the US.

After meeting with the EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in January, Mr Macron announced that the EU would finalise a “Strategic Compass” policy and defence strategy.

By the end of March, this strategy had been drawn up and published, hinting at Mr Macron and the EU’s grand plan for defence on the continent.

The plans included a three-year step-by-step guide for the bloc to become stronger and more independent in terms of its defence and military.

Josep Borrell, EU foreign affairs representative, noted: “Europe must learn to speak the language of power”.

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Among the main threats to the EU identified in the Strategic Compass paper were Russia and the authoritarian role of Belarus.

This is followed by China, the unstable situation in the Western Balkans, Islamist terrorism in Africa’s Sahel region, regional conflicts in the Middle East, and a look at the Arctic, Indo-Pacific, and Latin America.

The plans also covered threats from cyberspace and outer space.

Three years ago Mr Macron described NATO — the allied alliance — as “brain dead”, arguing that it exemplified why the EU needed to invest in its own military capabilities.

Now, with the situation in Europe drastically different, both he and the EU have radically changed tact.

Mr Macron now says that “Russia has given us a wake-up call”.

He added: “I always considered that we needed a strategic clarification, and we are in the process of getting it.”

NATO, he said, had received an “electric shock” when Russia attacked Ukraine.

The war has exposed the EU’s insecurities, and made clear that the continent can only be defended with the help of NATO — its American allies — rather than with its own army.

So the Strategic Compass plan is in no way aiming to compete with NATO, according to Michael Gahler, MEP and foreign policy expert of the Christian Democratic Union, who spoke to the German publication DW.

He suggested that any future EU defences would perform their duties “with NATO”.

In the strategy paper, the EU plans to set up a joint defence force of 5,000 soldiers by 2025.

It also wants to better coordinate arms projects, and harmonise the military budgets of member states, which are set to grow.

These joint projects could also be subsidised by the EU’s budget.

Mr Gahler dissected what the eventual process could look like: “First comes the analysis of what the threat is. Then comes the inventory of what we have. From this comes the conclusion of what we need.”

Mr Macron has said strategic autonomy means “having a stronger European defence and stronger technical, technological autonomy”, adding that defence industries must coordinate more for “common projects”.

He said France would ensure the EU takes “concrete” steps towards a “culture of common intervention… that we’ve launched and that will be developed over the coming months with several operations”.

Ms von der Leyen has also said: “I believe it is high time for defence in Europe to move up a gear.”

The French President has long pushed for a “true European army”, first outlining his ambitions in 2018 during a speech to mark the centenary of the First World War Armistice.

On a visit to the former Western Front in Verdun that year, he said that Russian had shown it could be a threat and Europe had to be able to “defend itself better alone”.

But many are and have been wary of such plans, including the UK.

While a member of the EU, Westminster supported the notion of a European force but opposed the idea of a fully-fledged army because of the potential risks of creating a parallel structure to NATO.

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