Germany eyes EU defense union without Britain

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany and France want to forge closer defense cooperation in the European Union following the departure of Britain, which has “paralyzed” such initiatives in the past, German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday.

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Presenting a report on German security policy, von der Leyen said Germany and France would lead talks with other countries to assess their appetite for common projects and with the long-term aim of moving toward a common security and defense union.

“I can tell you from experience that in the past Britain has said it will not do these things,” she told a news conference.

“This paralyzed the European Union on the issues of foreign and security policy. This cannot mean that the rest of Europe remains inactive, but rather we need to move forward on these big issues.”

Britain, where sentiment against ceding sovereignty to EU-wide authorities was always strong, voted in a referendum on June 23 to leave the bloc after 43 years of membership.

Von der Leyen suggested the construction of a European “civilian-military headquarters”, from which EU missions could be deployed, as well as a European medical force.

In the report on security policy, the government said: “Germany’s security environment has become even more complex, volatile, dynamic and thus increasingly unpredictable”.

The government highlighted the threat posed by Russia, which it said was “openly calling the European peace order into question” with a willingness to use force to advance its interests and to redraw borders in Crimea and eastern Ukraine.

“This has far-reaching implications for security in Europe and thus for the security of Germany,” it said, stressing the need for “increased resilience” in defense policy while cooperating with Russia on common interests.

“Without a fundamental change in policy, Russia will constitute a challenge to the security of our continent in the foreseeable future.”

Reporting by Sabine Siebold; writing by Paul Carrel; editing by Mark Heinrich