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European defence: Don't shoot the pianist!

Defence issues are vital enough for them to be left out of controversy. The European Council meeting will be specifically devoted to them and therefore has to be seen objectively and realistically as good news.

In this domain certain things have been known for a long time:

Not all Europeans share the same view of the world nor do they have the same idea of the use of force in international relations. Defence industries cannot be organised like the pea market, according to the same principles of competition and openness. Their only clients are States. Sovereignty in this area can only be shared if there is a guarantee that defence will be strong and above all that it will be supported politically by legitimate and democratically elected powers. The traditional european institutions will not settle the issue. But they can help. As the world is re-arming, Europe is disarming, although its defence spending as a whole is still the second biggest in the world.  Now without any real enemy it believes that it will no longer have one in the future, which is not really what history has taught us.

Observation should help us appreciate what the meeting of heads of State and government on defence really is: a significant step forward.

Ms Ashton's services, the European Defence Agency, and the ministers have done some good work. They are making real proposals which should lead to the pooling of some military assets without affecting States' capabilities to act, mobilising European research loans to the benefit of European security, with the launch of some innovations.

Missing of course are the real equipment programmes - receiving long term finance and supporting European technologies, which are too often initiated and supported in Europe by economic agents alone.

We are also expecting a truly restored European strategy and the urgency of this will be shared at the Summit on maritime security. 90% of European trade, the most important in the world transits via the sea. Most of our future energy and mineral resources, still unused,

are to be found there. It is time to ensure their security and free access to them and not just off our coasts. We are expecting an ambitious European maritime strategy in April 2014.

This is a matter of urgency.

Finally current events will also be discussed. Europe is being called upon by the whole world: Syria, Iran, Africa, Ukraine, Russia.

In this regard two countries stand out in particular.

The French soldiers engaged in Africa and France is struggling to find partners with whom to share the urgent requirement of being present in places where our interests and principles are being challenged. France is the bearer of a message that Europe cannot ignore and it must step up its efforts to share the burden amongst its partners.

Finally the UK is against any European progress in this direction and prefers bilateral agreements, which France has used intelligently. There is also NATO confronted by the US "Asian pivot" - and of little use in Africa or other causes further afield.

We are expecting some modest yet pragmatic decisions of the European Council. But bringing together heads of State and government to discuss these issues of major interest is already an achievement. The only thing that we should regret is that they do not do it more often!