Macron: James Shields discusses calls for an EU army
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Guy Verhofstadt, now an MEP, renewed calls for a joint military among EU nations, adding the bloc’s limited involvement in the conflict was because member states “are tripping ourselves up”. He noted: “The EU must be able to defend itself.”
Speaking to Austrian paper Wiener Zeitung, Mr Verhofstadt said: “We need a united EU military. The member states were always against it, now hopefully they are waking up.”
Asked why the EU had so far only played a minor role in the conflict, he explained: “Because, as so often, we are tripping ourselves up.
“In the countries of the EU, we spend €240billion [£199billion] on the military. That is four times more than Russia. Only we duplicate, duplicate, duplicate, are therefore not very efficient and weaken ourselves.
“For me, this spending is the biggest waste of money within the EU.”
At present, the EU has gone beyond its historical precedents in its reaction to Russia’s military incursion into Ukraine.
As well as a raft of economic sanctions, for the first time in its history it has made funding available for the shipment of weaponry to a non-member state.
It also banned Russian aircraft from using EU airspace.
However, its response to Russian aggression in the build-up to the invasion has been slammed for being sluggish, with the majority of the military aid to Ukraine coming from NATO nations such as Poland, Estonia and the UK.
The bloc was criticised after its foreign policy chief Josep Borrell stated on Friday that China “must” be involved in mediation between Russia and Ukraine – despite the conflict bordering the bloc.
Mr Verhofstadt’s comments come as Russia suggested that neighbouring countries providing military assistance to Ukraine may be considered belligerents – stoking fears that conflict may spread to other nations.
Poland, Romania and Estonia have been assisting Ukraine in its efforts to defend itself, as NATO nations on the military alliance’s eastern front.
On Sunday, Igor Konashenkov, a Russian Defence Ministry spokesperson, said that if any country provides airfields for Ukraine’s military for use against Russian troops it “may be regarded as the involvement of these states in an armed conflict”.
The notion of a joint EU military has been floated since the bloc was formed in the 1950s, but has never gained enough internal traction to become a reality.
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The proposal has in the past gained the support of leaders including former German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron.
Mr Verhofstadt said: “A defence union would be much more than just cooperation between national armies. It would also not be in conflict with NATO.
“We would have a strong voice and could decide for ourselves whether or not to participate in operations. The EU must be able to defend itself.”
The former Belgian leader called for the EU to strengthen its sanctions against Russia in the meantime, including banning more Russian banks from the international financial communication service SWIFT – something which Boris Johnson has been pushing for.
He also called for a complete embargo on all oil and gas imports from Russia – which the EU is reportedly discussing with US counterparts, but has yet to do owing to the bloc’s reliance on Russian fossil fuels.
Mr Verhofstadt commented the move “would allow us to stop the financing of the war machine”.
He added: “This will be difficult, we will suffer, but it will be necessary if we want to help Ukraine. We cannot be in solidarity with Ukraine without suffering ourselves.”
Ukraine is one of three former Soviet states that have recently applied for EU membership, along with Moldova and Georgia.
Mr Verhofstadt said that it was “better to have these countries inside the European family”.
The MEP noted: “Putin is afraid that a world will emerge around him in which independent peoples democratically choose open markets and free societies. Societies protected by modern, rule-based and democratic state structures.
“From his worldview, this is his worst nightmare.”
Additional reporting by Monika Pallenberg
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