EU army fears: Bloc must ‘grow up’, says defence chief as he touts 50,000 ‘reaction force’

Merkel gets BOOED as she calls for a European army

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Joao Gomes Cravinho was speaking the day after a new report cast doubt over the EU’s ability to militarise itself, given the EU27 as a whole spends an average of 1.2 percent of GDP on defence – well below the two percent recommended by NATO, in sharp contrast the UK. However, Mr Cravinho, Portugal’s defence minister appeared to brush aside such concerns in his interview with Politico’s Playbook bulletin.

Recent events in Afghanistan – not least the double suicide bombing which cost the lives of at least 190 people including 13 US Marines – ought to “concentrate minds” in Brussels, Mr Cravinho, speaking ahead of a meeting of EU defence ministers in Slovenia on Wednesday and Thursday.

He added: “We cannot remain adolescents forever.

“We have to, at a certain point, stand up and say we assume responsibilities. That time has come.”

Mr Cravinho insisted he did not use the phrase “strategic autonomy,” because “it has become so divisive”.

In particular, countries in the former Soviet Union were very wary of anything which could be seen as loosening ties with both NATO and the USA, he stressed.

He insisted the plan was to work “in very close cooperation with NATO with the United States”.

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Nevertheless, he emphasised “not being dependent on others for issues that are vital interests for us,” adding: “This is part of a process of building Europe.”

Joseph Borrell, the EU’s top diplomat, has floated the idea of the EU creating what he has termed a “rapid entry force” of 50,000 soldiers.

The proposal “will certainly be discussed” in Slovenia this week, Mr Cravinho said.

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He explained: “We need to generate a strong consensus in favour of moving forward, more rapidly more intensively building capacity to intervene.

“And then whether it’s this rapid reaction force of 50,000, or some other, I think that will come next.”

More will be known “in the next couple of months,” because EU countries were preparing the “Strategic Compass” – in other words, a document outlining their defence ambitions which will be unveiled during next year’s French presidency of the bloc, with a first draft due in the autumn.

As such armed forces were just one part of the equation, he stressed, pointing out a need to better “understand how different instruments can work together” given that “armed forces have to be anchored in a state”.

While not going as far as Mr Macron, who has described NATO as “brain dead”, he Craving added: “There is a real problem of dialogue in NATO.”

Yesterday’s Facts4EU report used Eurostat figures to show the UK currently spends 2.0 percent of GDP on defence, one of just three European nations to do so, the others being Estonia (2.1 percent) and Greece (also 2 percent).

Commenting, former Brexit Party MEP Ben Habib told Express.co.uk: “One of the reasons the West’s influence has been diminishing across the Globe is because for too long Europe has been spoilt by the US.

“Spoilt by the US putting its protective blanket around our continent.”

He added: “France and Germany have taken the opportunity to shirk their obligations and focus on domestic matters, at our cost. So much for a level playing field!

“The only saving grace of the EU’s military weakness is their emerging army is unlikely to be a threat to us for a while yet.”

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