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France’s armed forces minister told Nato partners not to be "afraid" of an EU army as she urged her international counterparts to embrace the prospect.
Florence Parly insisted that the creation of an EU military force would not undermine the transatlantic alliance.
EU plans for a rapid-reaction military unit, designed to operate independently of the United States, sparked fears that the bloc would be in competition with Nato.
At a meeting of Nato defence ministers, Ms Parly told colleagues: “When I hear some defensive statements on Europe defence and when I observe certain threats, including within this organisation, I say: ‘don’t be afraid.’
“European defence isn’t built in opposition to Nato, quite the contrary: a stronger Europe will contribute to a strengthened and more resilient alliance.”
In a bid to develop the bloc into a genuine military player, Paris wants to pool resources to develop weapons and new battlefield technologies.
Britain backed calls for the EU to play a supporting role to Nato. But Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, dismissed proposals to build a European army as a “red herring”.
He said there was “absolutely no point in sticking European berets on a whole load of people”.
Lloyd Austin, the US Secretary of Defence, was more positive and welcomed the prospect of a militarised EU.
“What we’d like to see are initiatives that are complementary to the types of things that Nato is doing,” he told reporters.
Out of the EU’s 27 nations, 21 of them are also members of the 30-strong Nato alliance.
Washington has long argued that the bloc should be able to do more to manage the crises on its borders.
Brussels is hoping to agree on a EU-wide military strategy next year, which President Emmanuel Macron has vowed to champion as part of France’s six-month presidency of the bloc, starting in January.
EU defence ministers have already held talks on proposals for a new “initial entry force” that could be deployed quickly anywhere in the world.
But, last month, Jens Stoltenberg, Nato’s Secretary General, warned the plans risked over stretching the “scarce resources” of Nato allies.