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« Ensuring European Security »

Remarks during the German Marshall Fund seminar :

European Defense Cooperation in a new Transatlantic Era

Paris - January 24th, 2019

Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,


It is such a pleasure to be here with you today. I should first like to commend the organizers and thank them for inviting me as keynote speaker.

Many said the same this morning. Against a backdrop of considerable uncertainty, we, Europeans, are facing external threats and an internal crisis.

(I. Uncertainties)


It is now clear that uncertainty is a key dimension in our strategic and geopolitical environment.


Much has already been said about the uncertainty the election of Donald Trump has caused. The main question being asked is whether or not his action will make the world more stable or less so. What we see today is a US Administration sending contradictory messages about the US foreign policy.


Another uncertainty concerns the fragmentation of the world, the tectonic shift of powers, the return to power games, the various crises which are all interconnected due to the effects of interdependence.


A third uncertainty concerns Europe itself, which has been built on the basis of aversion to war, economic integration and a culture of compromise. It abolished violence as an instrument for settling differences between States and within States, thereby setting an example for the rest of the world. But the strategic context of the European Union has changed. We don’t have enough time to talk about all the threats from the other side of our external borders, we are facing today, from terrorism to nuclear issues.


Just a word about Russia. In Ukraine, serious geopolitical tensions have arisen from the violation of the principles of international law and territorial integrity. In illegally annexing Crimea and providing military support to the rebels in Donbass region, Russia has not only challenged Ukraine’s sovereignty, and therefore its integrity, but it has also compromised the foundations of security all over the continent.


And Russia’s usual distrust with regard to NATO, and at times the European Union, has evolved over the past four years into open hostility.


(II. European Union)


With regard to the European Union, it is now faced with a challenging of its own internal cohesion because of the economic crisis, public opinion fatigue regarding inclusive ambitions, and for instance threats in the wake of migration crises, which is one of the strongest signs of our unity: Schengen and the free movement of people.


The British people’s vote weakened, among other things, the premise of irreversibility of European integration and opened a period of uncertainty on the United Kingdom’s relationship with Europe, but also on the questioning of the effect of its choice on Europe's international balances.


Europe is experiencing three crises.


The first crisis is that of political hope. Europe has given people reason to dream, first by preventing fratricidal wars within its borders, then with the enlargement, by leading all of its members to democracy. Peace and democracy. The problem is that Europe is not able to bounce back on the basis of new hope that is able to rally its people around new exciting momentum. And its populations are increasingly seeing it as a standard bureaucracy rather than a shared over-arching project.


The second crisis has emerged from the fact that the European Union has not been able to reassure its own population. Ask the Greeks who have suffered from the financial crisis, ask the Italians who have suffered from the increase in asylum seekers caused by the growing instability of Europe’s borders, ask the French and the Belgium who have suffered from the terrorist attacks committed on their territory. Did they feel the EU Was protecting them ? No. That’s why, European citizens who all suffer from weak growth, demand that their States - not Europe - fulfil their basic duty of ensuring security and stability and preserving their lifestyles.


The third crisis stems from Europe’s strategic relegation. Confident in its economic power to compete with global influence, Europe has ignored its military power, depending mainly on NATO’s protection. First, member countries have different opinions on the threats and on whether or not to intervene in external theatres of operations. Second, efforts to equip and modernize and a weapons race can be seen all over the world, with the exception of Europe! This revived interest of many countries outside Europe in the military power factor has put our continent at a disadvantage.

That is why I believe it is important to take the opportunity to better define what we want, as Europeans, concerning our defence and our security.


(III. French approach)


In the Aachen Treaty signed two days ago, France and Germany recognize that their security interests are “inseparable” and therefore commit to deepening their cooperation in matters of defense and security in order to strengthen European ability to act autonomously and thus allow Europe to be strong and sovereign.


In light of the increasingly intertwined nature of the European nations’ interests, France calls for Europeans to work toward the goal of a shared strategic autonomy. In the French defense doctrine, the principle of strategic autonomy is paramount to have a freedom of decision and operational action when necessary. Achieving strategic autonomy requires (i) autonomous decision-making; (ii) a high degree of industrial and technological autonomy, as well as (iii) the capabilities and resources to ensure operational autonomy.


In the spirit of the objectives outlined in the Sorbonne speech [1], the French President recently used the strong image of a “true European Army”. It is not a case for a unified command or for the integration of all national forces, but rather a call for Europeans to be more responsible and more autonomous to guarantee the protection of their fellow citizens, including through the appropriate means of managing external crisis and shaping partnerships with neighboring states and regions.


One could prefer to call this ambition ‘self-sufficiency’ rather than ‘strategic autonomy’. Regardless of these nuances, France’s conviction is that Europeans need to act concretely for their collective defense, as France does every day with its modern, interoperable and reactive forces.


For the time being, building European strategic autonomy is driven by ambitious, concrete and promising initiatives at the European level both in the industrial and the operational fields.


At the EU level, we have collectively built innovative tools (Permanent Structured Cooperation, European Defense Fund...) to strengthen our defense industries and enable us to jointly develop the critical capabilities needed for our freedom of operational action. In this respect, we strongly welcome the Commission's proposal for the next multiannual financial framework, which should enable us to accelerate this momentum (notably through a € 13 billion budget for the EDF).


Increasing Europe’s strategic autonomy also requires the development of a common strategic culture. That is why, France has launched, along with nine European partners [2], the European Intervention Initiative (EI2). Through pragmatic and operational cooperation on strategic foresight, scenario, lessons learned and support to operations, EI2 aims at developing our common ability to respond swiftly and jointly to any threat and challenge to our peace, security and stability.


Now, let's be clear on a crucial point in order to avoid any misunderstanding. As it is clearly stated in the EU Treaties, NATO remains the foundation of our collective defense. Thus, our efforts to invest more in capabilities and technology, to ensure highest levels of interoperability and mobility, to draw our strategic cultures closer are fully compatible with and will benefit to NATO. Our approach does not consist in building a Europe that claims to replace NATO or detach itself from the United States.




1/ Enhancing European strategic autonomy is the condition for a credible and strong European contribution and commitment to article 5. In that respect, in the context of rumors about U.S. pulling out from NATO [article du NYT du 14 janvier 2019], we need more than ever reassurances about US full commitment to article 5 and the defense of the transatlantic area.


2/ I have remained convinced since the end of the cold war, that the European Union has considerable strategic potential that it has seemingly ignored. And I have always been one who has been sorry not to see Europe develop this potential. I think it is extremely important that the European Union finally decide for itself to do so. If not, it could very likely have to resolve this under pressure while events are unfolding, which could result in more American isolationism, an even bigger Russian threat at its borders or a new geopolitics of state and non-state actors intent on destroying the main message that it is sending to the world./.


[1] “By the start of the next decade, the goal is for Europeans to have a shared doctrinal corpus, a credible joint military intervention capability, and appropriate common budget tools”.

[2] Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, the United Kingdom and Finland.

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