June 27, 2018 / 12:12 PM / 25 days ago

EU leaders to strengthen defenses, seek 'strategic autonomy' at summit: draft

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union leaders will promise on Thursday to intensify efforts to strengthen the bloc’s military cooperation and reduce its reliance on the United States, according to a draft summit statement.

The pledge, expected to be agreed by the bloc’s 28 heads of government at a two-day summit from Thursday, will also include doing more to increase defense spending, a central demand of U.S. President Donald Trump, who will attend a NATO summit in July in Brussels.

“Europe must take greater responsibility for its own security,” the leaders will say. “The Union is therefore taking steps to bolster European defense, by enhancing defense investment, capability development and operational readiness. These initiatives enhance its strategic autonomy.”

Trump’s “America first” policy and his conflicting statements on NATO and the European Union, as well as Europe’s underfunded militaries, have prompted the bloc to consider much closer EU defense coordination. However, it still insists that the U.S.-led NATO alliance remains responsible for defending Europe.

“Despite our tireless efforts to keep the unity of the West, transatlantic relations are under immense pressure due to the policies of President Trump,” European Council President Donald Tusk, who will chair the summit, told EU leaders in a letter on Wednesday.

“It is my belief that, while hoping for the best, we must be ready to prepare our Union for worst-case scenarios.”

Reporting by Robin Emmott; editing by Robert-Jan Bartunek

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