The Daily Telegraph

Von der Leyen calls for an EU force to put boots on ground in world’s trouble spots

- By James Crisp EUROPE EDITOR

THE European Union must “step up to the next level” and send soldiers to global conflict zones, Ursula von der Leyen said yesterday, in her most forthright call for military integratio­n.

The European Commission president, who announced a defence summit with president Emmanuel Macron of France next year, reignited the debate over a future EU army in her annual state of the union speech.

She urged the 27 member states to use long-dormant powers to put EU boots on the ground and called for the creation of a “Defence Union” in the European parliament in Strasbourg. “There will be missions where Nato or the United Nations will not be present but where Europe should be,” Mrs von der Leyen said.

“Europe can and clearly should be able and willing to do more on its own,” she added, before warning of “an era of regional rivalries and major powers refocusing their attention towards each other”. She said: “Recent events in Afghanista­n are not the cause of this change – but they are a symptom of it.”

The chaotic Us-led evacuation of Afghanista­n has spurred calls for the EU to create a 5,000-strong rapid reaction force able to act independen­tly of Washington and Nato. Mrs von der Leyen said the unit should be part of the EU’S plans.

But the EU has had battlegrou­ps of 1,500 soldiers standing by since 2007 and they have never been used, including during the evacuation from Kabul.

Mrs von der Leyen said: “You can have the most advanced forces in the world but, if you’re never prepared to use them, of what use are they?

“That is what has held us back until now. It’s not just a shortfall of capacity, it’s the lack of political will.

“It is time for Europe to step up to the next level,” she said.

Closer military integratio­n will be seen as a stepping stone towards an eventual European army, which the UK consistent­ly opposed during its membership of the bloc. The rapid reaction force would need the unanimous support of all the 27 EU member states and, so far, they have been unwilling to consider sending troops into battle under the EU flag.

Some member states, especially the Baltic countries which border a belligeren­t Russia, are wary of underminin­g Nato with a common EU force.

Others fear that any future European Union force would be dominated by France, as the bloc’s sole major military power after Brexit.

“Without the UK as a member state, European defence will be French defence and that is exactly the problem,” one EU diplomat told The Daily

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