European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has said the EU should seek to beef up its military capabilities to confront security threats and global crises.
She told the European Parliament that she expected EU military forces to be “part of the solution.”
Following the withdrawal from Afghanistan, the EU required the “political will” to intervene militarily without the US-led Nato.
She also stated that France will host an EU defence summit next year.
“It is time for Europe to take the next step,” said Mrs von der Leyen in her annual State of the Union address.
Historically, the EU has relied on the Nato alliance for military action.
The rapid demise of the Kabul government has cast doubt on the EU’s ability to steer its own defence policy.
Earlier this month, German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer stated that the EU should become a “strategic player to be reckoned with.”
Emmanuel Macron, the French President, has previously supported the idea of a European army. This was accelerated by the UK’s exit from the EU, which feared duplication with Nato.
‘Lack of political will’
The Commission President stated that the EU needed to provide more stability in its own neighbourhood and elsewhere by participating in missions other than Nato and the UN. It also needed to share intelligence and become a cyber-security leader.
What had previously held the EU back was “not just a lack of capacity – it is a lack of political will,” she explained.
“You can have the most advanced forces in the world – but if you are never prepared to use them, of what use are they?” she told the Strasbourg parliament.
One EU diplomat described the notion of an active EU defence force as a “non-starter”, BBC Brussels correspondent Jessica Parker reports. She says there is huge scepticism, even exasperation, in some quarters about an idea that has long been discussed.
Proposals for a European Union rapid-response force first surfaced in the 1990s. In 2007, each member state formed so-called battlegroups of 1,500 troops.
The battlegroups were declared ready for operations but were never used due to funding disagreements and a reluctance to deploy.
Most EU countries are also members of Nato, and some, particularly those bordering Russia, do not want to sever ties with the US.
Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg stated this month that he supports the EU’s plans to develop a common defence policy, but cautioned against the creation of a new military force.
Mrs von der Leyen added that a joint declaration with Nato would be issued by the end of the year.
The Commission president also said:
- The EU would “stand by the Afghan people” and increase humanitarian aid for Afghanistan by €100m (£85m; $118m)
- The forthcoming COP26 climate summit in Glasgow would be “a moment of truth for the global community”. She called on the US and China – the world’s biggest polluters – to step up their commitments to curbing climate change
- The Covid-19 pandemic was “a marathon, not a sprint”. She announced more funding and vaccine donations to low-income countries to ensure “this doesn’t turn into a pandemic of the unvaccinated”
- The Belarus government had “instrumentalised” migrants by sending them to the borders of EU nations. She accused Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of “a hybrid attack to destabilise Europe”
- The European Commission would develop a new chipmaking “ecosystem”, to keep the EU competitive and self-sufficient.