The EU must have more troops and be prepared to use them across the globe, the bloc’s incoming foreign affairs chief has told the European Parliament.
Josep Borrell, who is nominated to be the EU’s next chief diplomat, said that Europe could not allow itself to become “irrelevant” on a world stage dominated by superpowers such as the US and China.
“We have the instruments to play power politics,” he said at a European Parliament hearing into his candidacy to head up the EU foreign affairs service, “The EU has to learn to use the language of power.”
“We should reinforce the EU’s international role and further our military capacity to act,” the 72-year-old Spanish socialist added.
“We should pool our national sovereignties together to multiply the power of individual member states,” Mr Borrell said, "I am convinced that if we don't act together Europe will become irrelevant."
Mr Borrell called for the numbers of EU troops that could be deployed to be raised to at least 55-60,000 from the current 35,000 worldwide.
“That’s impressive but we have to do more,” he said before pointing out the 60,000 target was first set in 1999 by EU leaders after the Balkan war.
Mr Borrell said the EU had to speak with a unified "truly integrated" foreign policy voice on the world stage. He said the total defence spend in the EU was half the GDP of Belgium and more than in China and Russia.
But that spending did not translate into military capacity because it was fragmented among the EU member countries, Mr Borrell said.
He backed EU plans for pooling defence research projects. Some critics have accused those plans of being a stepping stone towards a future EU Army.
Although that idea has been publicly supported by Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron and incoming European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, it is an extremely distant prospect at the moment.
“We have to spend together,” he said, “We have to be more operational on the ground, we have to deploy forces, starting in our neighbourhood.”
The EU does have “battlegroups” of 3,000 soldiers from across the EU on standby every six months but these have never been used and would require the unanimous support of every member state before they could be.
“We should envisage a Europe that can defend itself while working for a multilateral peaceful world order,” Mr Borrell said before insisting this would strengthen NATO rather than be a rival to it.
He earlier warned, in a thinly veiled swipe at the US and Donald Trump, that some of the EU’s allies were “disengaging” from the international rules based system.
He also told MEPs that the EU could not allow itself to be “squeezed” between the US and China in the trade war between the two superpowers.
If his candidacy is backed by the European Parliament, Mr Borrell will become the EU’s chief diplomat on November 1, succeeding Federica Mogherini.