August 25, 2016 / 4:04 PM / 3 years ago

Czech PM backs European army in talks with Germany's Merkel

Czech Republic's Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka and German Chancellor Angela Merkel shake hands after a news conference at government headquarters in Prague, Czech Republic, August 25, 2016. REUTERS/David W Cerny

PRAGUE (Reuters) - The Czech Republic supports deeper European defense cooperation that could eventually lead to the creation of a European army, Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said after meeting German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday.Sobotka said more European security and defense cooperation, in addition to the existing partnership in NATO, was a priority given the need to protect external EU borders and respond to growing security threats from places such as the Middle East.

Creating joint army units would follow a practice long established by countries such as Germany, which has created them with France and the Netherlands and has discussed military collaboration with other EU partners.

In Tallinn on Wednesday, Merkel said she saw no fundamental obstacles to setting up joint units with Estonia, although she added the disparate sizes of the two militaries meant such an endeavor might require the participation of other countries.

Sobotka said his country envisaged further partnerships between EU countries, suggesting they could form steps towards the establishment of a European army.

“Certainly the Czech Republic can imagine stronger cooperation in the military area, integration of units, common exercises, and above all securing the capacity to organize operations to support common European foreign policy,” he said.

In his discussion with Merkel, he called the project “a possible joint European army”.

Merkel is meeting 15 other heads of state this week to prepare the groundwork for a Sept. 16 summit in Bratislava aimed at giving new agenda to the bloc hit by the immigration wave and Britain’s decision to leave.

European countries have started to increase military spending in light of an increasingly aggressive stance by Russia and wars in the Middle East, but funding in most EU states is still far below the 2 percent of GDP they pledge as members of NATO.

Reporting by Jan Lopatka and Andreas Rinke; Editing by Dominic Evans

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