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Germany, France drafting details of defense fund: German minister

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany and France are working out specific proposals for a European Union defense fund ahead of a bilateral ministerial meeting on July 13, German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen said in an interview published on Saturday.

The flags of Germany, France and the European Union are seen in front of the the Chancellery, before the meeting between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron in Berlin, Germany May 15, 2017. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

Joint work on drones, military transports and combined efforts to stabilize the African Sahel region were projects that could be funded by the new plan, she told the Funke Mediengruppe newspaper chain.

“Germany and France want to become the motor of a European defense union and implement the defense fund in a smart way,” von der Leyen said.

“The Brexit referendum and the U.S. election opened our eyes. Europeans must take more responsibility for our own security,” she said.

Von der Leyen said the finance ministers of both countries were working to develop mechanisms, while the defense ministers were working to identify various projects.

Europe-wide training of military officers could also be paid for by the fund, von der Leyen said.

Increased cooperation in Africa could help reduce trafficking in arms and people, while helping combat terrorism, she said.

The European Commission this week threw its support behind Franco-German plans to integrate Europe’s militaries and defense industries.

Spurred by Britain’s decision to leave the European Union and pressure from the United States, Brussels has seized on deeper military ties proposed last year by France and Germany to show the bloc can still provide security in the face of Islamist militant attacks and a resurgent Russia.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday underscored the need to rebuild the German military or Bundeswehr after decades of spending cuts, and to increase the attractiveness of military careers in areas such as cybersecurity.

Merkel, speaking in a video podcast, said European defense cooperation would be closely coordinated with the NATO alliance, noting that Europe had a keen interest in stabilizing Africa, a source of refugees heading to Europe.

“As Europeans, we want a coordinated approach there,” she said.

The European Commission this week said it would create a fund with at least 1.5 billion euros a year to enable governments to join forces on development and procurement of new weapons, including drones, cyber warfare systems and other hi-tech gear.

The plan must still be approved by EU governments and the European Parliament.

EU leaders will consider an array of proposals on defense cooperation at a summit in Brussels on June 22-23.

Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Andrew Bolton