EU needs minister of foreign affairs and defence HQ, says European Commission president

By on 15/09/2016 | Updated on 24/09/2020
Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, delivering his annual state of the union address

The president of the European Commission yesterday called for the creation of a European minister of foreign affairs, with a seat at the table for discussions about peace in Syria.

Jean-Claude Juncker said the current EU representative for foreign affairs and security policy, Federica Mogherini, was “doing a remarkable job” but should have more influence in international negotiations.

Delivering his annual state of the union address to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Juncker called for a European strategy for Syria, with every country’s diplomatic service pooling their forces behind Mogherini to boost her leverage in global talks. The Commission chief argued that wielding soft power is not enough in an increasingly dangerous world.

“Europe needs to toughen up. Nowhere is this truer than in our defence policy,” he said. “The Lisbon Treaty enables those member states who wish, to pool their defence capabilities in the form of a permanent structured cooperation. I think the time to make use of this possibility is now.”

The lack of cooperation in defence costs Europe between €25bn and €100bn a year, he added, calling for joint purchasing of military equipment and vehicles.

Juncker proposed setting up a headquarters to create a common military force independent of – though cooperating with – NATO.  He also announced a series of initiatives including a new European travel information system, a European defence fund to be set up by the end of the year, and more resources and better access to data for Europol, which supports national law enforcement.

It was the first speech to set out European Commission priorities since Britain voted to leave the EU in June.

“Post Brexit and without the British veto [a new military headquarters] has now very much become an option,” said Sophia Besch, research fellow at the Centre for European Reform. But it’s important to note that Juncker has stopped short of proposing a European army, she told Global Government Forum.

Alexander Mattelaer, assistant director of the Institute for European Studies, told Global Government Forum that there is appetite for redrawing the boundaries in European defence cooperation among many member states. The new boundary will be determined by the extent of policy consensus between the key players, namely France and Germany, he added. “So we may get to see the Eurocorps HQ in Strasbourg revamped… and perhaps more flagship projects. But if one reads recent policy documents about French and German defence it is clear we are not talking about a complete merger of national armed forces.”

Italian politician Mogherini, who also holds the position of vice president of the European Commission, came to Brussels in 2014 from Matteo Renzi’s government in Rome.

Juncker’s speech comes two days before a meeting of 27 EU heads of state – British prime minister Theresa May excluded – in Bratislava on Friday.

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See also:

European Commission opens up new part of law-making process

EU Commission seeks new member for Regulatory Scrutiny Board

About Tamsin Rutter

Tamsin Rutter is a journalist based in Brussels, Belgium. She writes on a variety of topics, including public services, cities, local and central government and education. She was formerly the deputy editor of the Guardian's Public Leaders Network and Housing Network.

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