France tells Europe to pull its weight on defense

PARIS (Reuters) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy urged European Union nations on Monday to accept a greater share of defense spending to cope with escalating global threats.

He said the United States had nothing to fear from European efforts to promote its own defense and called for a rationalization of existing arms programs in Europe’s fragmented 200 billion euro ($270 billion) defense industry.

“We can’t carry on with four countries paying for the security of all the rest,” Sarkozy told France’s overseas ambassadors in a foreign policy speech.

France’s defense procurement budget is the second biggest in Europe behind Britain.

Together with Germany and Italy, Europe’s four largest economies accounted for 75 percent of European defense spending in 2005, according to the European defense Agency.

Unlike Germany and Italy, however, Britain and France spend more than 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense, which is a NATO benchmark, according to EDA figures.

“In the face of multiplying crises, there is not a surplus but a shortage of (defense) capacity (in Europe),” Sarkozy said.

“I would like Europeans to assume their full role and responsibilities for their own security and for the security of the world. That means we need to boost our planning and operational capacity and develop a European arms industry with new programs and by rationalizing existing ones.”


In France’s recent election campaign, Sarkozy pledged to keep French defense spending at 2 percent of gross domestic product and to press ahead with costly plans for a new aircraft carrier.

defense analysts blame a proliferation of overlapping projects in Europe on the refusal of France and others to share out sensitive projects that guarantee thousands of jobs.

Sarkozy sought to reassure the United States over European Union efforts to boost the region’s defense capabilities, saying these should be seen as complementing rather than rivaling the 58-year-old North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

“Putting the EU in opposition to NATO doesn’t make any sense because we need both. Better still, I am convinced it is in the well-understood interests of the United States that the EU should gather its forces, rationalize its capabilities and organize its own defense in an independent way.”

Sarkozy said France would push for a European security strategy to be adopted during its EU presidency next year.

France has traditionally highlighted the importance of the EU building up its defense capability and has been suspected by some NATO allies of holding back the 26-member alliance in its efforts to create a new post-Cold War role for itself.

But many French commentators say that Sarkozy, a self-proclaimed Atlanticist, leans more towards Washington than his predecessor Jacques Chirac, a fellow conservative who clashed with U.S. President George Bush over Iraq.