‘Bad news for our enemies’: EU launches defense pact

By Robin Emmott

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Union nations, now unfettered by Britain’s decision to quit, achieved a 70-year-old ambition on Thursday to integrate their defenses, launching a pact between 25 EU governments to fund, develop and deploy armed forces together.

European Council President Donald Tusk deemed the move “bad news for our enemies”.

First blocked by the French parliament in the 1950s and later by Britain, which feared creation of an EU army, the pact aims to end the squandering of billions of euros by splintered defense policies.

It is also aimed at lowering Europe’s heavy reliance on the United States.

“More than half a century ago, an ambitious vision of the European Defence Community was created but what was missing was the unity and courage to put it into practice,” Tusk, who chairs EU summits, said of the failed 1950s attempt.

“The dream was at odds with reality. Today this dream becomes reality,” he said in a speech in front of EU leaders and military personnel from each of the 25 countries involved.

Denmark, which has an opt out from EU defense matters, and Malta, were the only EU countries not to sign up, along with Brexiting Britain.

French President Emmanuel Macron, whose election victory in May gave new impetus to efforts to revive defense cooperation after Britons voted in 2016 to leave the bloc, hailed “concrete progress.” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the pact would make the EU more agile abroad and would support NATO.

The pact, called Permanent Structured Cooperation, or PESCO, is meant as a show of unity and a tangible step in EU integration, diplomats said, particularly after Britain’s decision to leave.

Caught off guard by Russia’s Crimea annexation in 2014 and facing threats ranging from state-sponsored computer hackers to militant attacks, EU governments say the pact is justified by EU surveys showing most citizens want the bloc to provide security.

EU governments proved unable to act as a group in the 1990s Balkan wars and relied on U.S.-led NATO to stop the bloodshed on their doorstep.

In Libya in 2011, a Franco-British air campaign ran out of munitions and equipment and was again forced to turn to the United States, in what is considered an enduring embarrassment for the EU, a major economic power.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s criticism of low European defense spending, a host of divisions on foreign policy, and Trump’s warnings to allies that they could no longer rely on the United States if they did not pay up,…

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