European Defence

France advocates a significantly stronger Defence Europe, as reflected in various frameworks (bilateral and “plurilateral” cooperation between European States, the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization). Its effective development and long-term credibility depend on a shared European strategic culture.

The 2017 Strategic Review of Defence and National Security stated that France “must offer ambitious defence partnerships to its partners based on a differentiated approach, with the highest priority being given to the more willing and able European nations.” This implies “providing support, both within and outside the EU and NATO frameworks, for the various promising initiatives that strengthen strategic convergence among European nations regarding their shared security.”

Read the 2017 Strategic Review of Defence and National Security

A renewed approach to defence cooperation

Our goal is to work more closely with Germany and other European countries with the capacity and will to move forward, and maintain solid bilateral ties with the United Kingdom, in order to make significant progress.

  • As stated in the Strategic Review, Germany is a crucial partner in furthering Europe’s defence and security ambitions. Bilateral cooperation has been stepped up in all fields, including through capability projects that will play a key role in the future of European defence. One example is the MALE drone project with Spain and Italy. The Treaty of Aachen, which was signed by the French President and the German Federal Chancellor on 22 January 2019, reflects this initiative, by giving prominence to security and defence issues.
  • The Franco-British defence relationship was further strengthened with the Lancaster House Treaties (2010), which cover the operational, capability, industrial and nuclear fields. France’s goal is to maintain structural defence cooperation with the United Kingdom in all fields despite Brexit, reinforcing the two countries’ special defence relationship.
  • At the same time, more attention has been given to France’s other European partners, by fully taking into account their expectations and contributions with respect to European security. For example, France deployed forces in 2017 and 2019 as part of NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) in Estonia. Equivalent support was provided in Lithuania in 2018. At the same time, Estonia consolidated its ties with France by joining the European Intervention Initiative (EI2 - see below) and deploying around 50 Estonian soldiers as part of Operation Barkhane in Mali.
  • The European Intervention Initiative, which was announced by the French President on 26 September 2017 and launched on 25 June 2018 after the Defence Ministers of participating countries signed a letter of intent to this effect, seeks to develop a common European strategic culture. Ten European countries with the military capabilities and political will to play a role on the international stage have joined this initiative (Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom). The goal is to build European capacities to jointly conduct military operations and missions, within ad hoc or multilateral frameworks (EU, NATO, UN), for all of the crises capable of affecting European security. At the ministerial meeting of 7 November 2018, work was launched to underline the added value of cooperation between the armed forces of participating countries.

Visit the page of the European Intervention Initiative on the website of the French Ministry for the Armed Forces

Significant progress on EU initiatives

Following the Maastricht Treaty, which established the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) in 1993, the Franco-British Summit in Saint-Malo laid the foundations for a European defence and security policy in 1998. The European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) was created the following year with a view to developing the European Union’s role in managing international crises through humanitarian, evacuation, peacekeeping and intervention tasks (also known as Petersberg tasks).

In 2003, this policy took tangible shape in the field with the Artemis Operation, formally known as the European Union Force (EUFOR) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. As part of this operation, which was under French command, 2,300 European soldiers helped stop massacres in Ituri, to the north-east of the country.

The Lisbon Treaty marked an important institutional shift, which was reflected in the creation of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) and provisions for expanding this policy through the appointment of a High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, also Vice-President of the European Commission. In addition, the Lisbon Treaty introduced the “mutual defence” clause – if one Member State experiences armed aggression, other Member States must come to its assistance. This clause was invoked for the first time following the Paris terrorist attacks on 13 November 2015. It enabled all EU Member States to show their solidarity with France by stepping up external commitments to fighting terrorism and relaying French soldiers in many theatres of operation.

Helping to resolve international crises and defending European interests

Many EU missions and military operations show European States’ commitment to resolving international crises, supporting their partners and defending their security interests.

Today, six operations made up of European soldiers of different nationalities have been deployed:

  • An operation has been launched to fight piracy off the Somalian coast (EUNAVFOR Operation Atalanta, deployed in 2008, which has considerably reduced piracy in the zone).
  • An operation has been launched to fight migrant smuggling in the Mediterranean (EUNAVFOR MED Operation Sophia, launched in 2015).
  • A peacekeeping operation has been deployed in Bosnia and Herzegovina (EUFOR Operation Althea, launched in 2004).
  • Three military training missions have taken place, in Somalia (EUTM Somalia, deployed since 2010), Mali (EUTM Mali, deployed since 2013) and the Central African Republic (EUTM RCA, deployed since 2016).

In addition, the European Union has deployed 10 civilian crisis management missions, particularly to provide training and advice in the fields of internal security and border management, in the Sahel, North Africa, the Middle East, the Balkans, Ukraine, Georgia and Somalia.

Strengthening European defence

Strengthening European defence has been one of the European Union’s political priorities since the European Council meeting of December 2013. In an uncertain international context, rapid and substantial progress has been made in the Defence Europe field, as a result of the mobilization of Member States and unprecedented commitments by the European Commission and European Council.

  • A political framework: Permanent Structured Cooperation. This framework was launched in December 2017 by 25 Member States. It includes 20 commitments to step up cooperation in a number of areas, including: defence investment, the interoperability of European armies, and development of the European industrial base. To date, the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) has resulted in 34 operational, industrial and defence capability projects. France is involved in 25 of these 34 projects.
  • Financial support: the European Defence Fund. This fund was created to financially support the development of European defence capabilities. Its precursor, the European defence industrial development programme (EDIDP), has been granted €500 million for the 2019-2020 period. The European Parliament reached a partial agreement on the regulation establishing the European Defence Fund (EDF) post 2020 in April 2019.
  • Other important initiatives These include the Coordinated Annual Review on Defence and the European Union’s capability to lead and plan missions and military operations. The civilian crisis management component of the CSDP has also undergone major developments, following the adoption of a civilian CSDP compact and a civilian capability development plan in 2018.

France’s pro-active vision involves setting aside a dedicated budget in the financial perspectives for the 2021-2027 period. In its proposals to be discussed by Member States, the European Commission announced its intention to set aside €28.5 billion for security and defence, including €13 billion for the EDF and €6.5 billion for military mobility. The project also includes an extra-budgetary European Peace Facility mechanism of €10.5 billion, to bridge the current gaps in the EU’s capability to provide military and defence assistance to third countries and regional and international organizations.

Visit the website of the Permanent Representation of France to the EU

Philippe Setton, the European Union Director at the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, analyses 20 years of common security and defence policy.

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The Atlantic Alliance: the framework for Euro-Atlantic security

For France, the Atlantic Alliance is the cornerstone of collective European defence.

Transatlantic ties and unwavering solidarity between Allies are central to the Alliance. They are essential if we are to overcome the threats and challenges currently facing us.

As stated in the Strategic Review, in returning to the NATO Integrated Military Command in 2009, France fully acknowledged NATO’s role in European defence, while preserving its special status in the nuclear domain.

France strongly supported NATO’s renewed investment in collective defence (Article 5 of the Treaty), as reflected in the decisions adopted at the summits in Wales (2014) and Warsaw (2016). Whether combining firmness and dialogue with Russia or adapting its deterrence and defence posture, NATO has successfully established a balanced, deterring but predictable approach. First, successive troop deployments, including French forces, under NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) in the Baltics and Poland, have enhanced security in eastern and northern Europe. Second, NATO strengthens security in Europe’s southern approaches, and takes part (in particular by contributing naval assets) in the fight against terrorism and other risks in the Mediterranean region. Furthermore, NATO remains the best organization for ensuring the interoperability of Allied forces, and consistency in their equipment efforts.

Following joint declarations by the European Union and NATO in 2016 (the Warsaw Declaration) and in 2018 (the Brussels Declaration), EU-NATO cooperation has made steady and significant progress. This ensures the complementarity and mutual reinforcement of initiatives by both organizations. Defence Europe initiatives, which are part of efforts to boost the single set of European forces, also help strengthen NATO.

Website of the Permanent Mission of France to NATO

Updated: July 2019