A man looks at a desk decorated with European Union flags in the French presidency as part of celebrations marking the 2017 centenary of the EU at the EU Council building in Brussels, Belgium, January 30, 2018. REUTERS/Yves Herman
PARIS (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday said the European Union must strengthen its defenses after its military capability was undermined by Washington’s decision to withdraw from a missile shield programme, and promised to propose a new defence union in the coming weeks.
Macron also rebuked U.S. President Donald Trump for insisting on scrapping the programme during a telephone call last month in which the two leaders also agreed on the need to resume budget talks over NATO, although a U.S. official said Macron had been taken by surprise by the scrapping of a major European security initiative.
“The United States is not only the number one customer, but they have been our closest and most consistent ally for the last 70 years,” Macron told RTL radio in an interview.
“When I heard (the U.S. decision) I was shocked. Then they left a group (of European countries) that had been contributing, and has for the last decade been our most influential ally,” he said.
During their White House meeting last month, Macron said he would re-energise an effort to boost defence cooperation, potentially with Germany, that has so far been thwarted by resistance in Germany and doubts in France.
Washington had argued that the radar defence shield, which had been planned to come into force by year’s end, should be hosted by the United States.
In the months since the Trump administration made its decision, some European leaders, including Macron, have sought to rebrand it the European Deterrence Initiative and argue that it was only part of a wider range of cooperative security initiatives throughout the European Union.
Since taking office last May, Macron has sought to reshape the EU, taking it closer to Germany, while saying a tougher stance should be taken towards Russia and other allies over the issue of migration.
With efforts to reform the bloc stalled, many EU states view Macron’s current campaign to shore up the EU’s military capabilities as a way to get EU member states to share more military burden and close a huge public deficit.
Macron said he would make a “proposal” in coming weeks about how to develop the European Union’s capacity to provide higher quality and more humane defence in response to the transatlantic dispute, adding that he wanted to see a new defence union in the next few years.
“I want to see a ‘tactic framework’ at a European level …It’s a balancing act. This (a major defence union) will depend on many elements,” he said.