France went into Mali, after Côte d'Ivoire and Libya. It has dispatched troops to Central African Republic. It did this in full sovereignty, respecting international laws to defend a certain idea of interational order to which the protection of its citizens and the promixity with its international interests rendered it all the more sensitive.
Many regretted the absence of other Europeans in these decisions of major importance. But could it have been otherwise? Exposing men to combat is a serious decision that cannot be shared. And things will continue this way for a long time to come.
Rather than create "European Defence", which does not exist, we should refer back and stick to the terms set out in the treaties. On a European level we can achieve "the progressive framing of a common defence policy that might lead to a common defence" (art. 24 du TEU).
Will it be easy to convince Member States that Europe must stop disarming and that its future also means having credible military capabilities without which there can be no effective diplomacy? Is it possible to convince them that we have to forget the idea that European cooperation agreements would cost less and that by sharing ever decreasing means we shall be more effective? Can they be convinced that these agreements cannot be drafted according to the usual "méthode communautaire"?
Enhancing the European aspect of defence notably means funding research that is increasingly dual - ie civilian and military. It is only by promoting industrial cooperation based on clearly defined capacity requirements set out by the Chiefs of Staff and then according to programmes that sustainable funding will be guaranteed.
Efficacy also means not launching new political entities.
We have to admit that for the time being Europeans do not share the same view of the world and are incapable of setting out a joint strategy that is both ambitious and credible. And so we have to agree to disagree; but this does not mean substituting our interests by one that is joint yet undefined.
European interest does not require us to sacrifice our national military tools in the name of a common policy that does not even exist yet. It cannot be guaranteed by civilian or humanitarian missions alone.
On the contrary the upkeep of credible armies that can go into military action abroad, where our interests are threatened, is vital to a Europe which wants to count as a world power.
Once again France has demonstrated with remarkable professionalism that its defence includes every area of military action.
In fact this does not prevent European cooperation agreements, it makes them possible. We can see this in Mali where European interests were threatened by terrorism.
Moreover, in time, the French government wants to revive the idea of "European Defence" and its Defence Minister is working towards this end in a worthy manner.
However although we might be able to pool support we cannot share the decision to intervene.
Unless we divide the work and ask another Member State to intervene on behalf of the others and also to finance the action itself ...
From this point of view the British budgetary cuts in defence and the decisions to be taken by France over the next few weeks regarding its military programming bill are particularly important for the entire continent.
This may very well mean the end of or enable the "revival" of "European Defence". Indeed, the UK, which along with France, is the only one to have a full army occupies a singular position in the Union and has never really liked the idea of European Defence.
To a certain degree France holds the fate of the the common defence policy in its hands because it has a powerful army which also sometimes benefits its European partners and also their citizens in areas of conflict.
If it lowers its guard in the face of the present budgetary difficulties there will be little room to manoeuvre in pleading the European cause in this area and as far as respecting the treaty is concerned - "Member States shall undertake progressively to improve their military capabilities." (art. 42 TEU). All except for Poland are reducing their defence spending. Sharing misery has never been the basis of a policy!
No one is suggesting that correcting this situation is easy in this particularly difficult economic time and that this deserves a specific type of courage. But here we are talking of a State duty that concerns all of Europe.
If France also disarms, Europe will drift towards threats that in all likelihood will be much more serious and it will relinquish for a long time to come the hope of one day a building a joint common defence policy, the guarantee of its international credibility.