Talks begin this week on Britain’s exit from the European Union, which will leave the bloc with only one heavyweight military power — France. EU moves towards a common defense policy have raised fears in Britain that it could be frozen out of future security arrangements.
Europe’s security is at a turning point. Threatened by Russian aggression in Ukraine and Islamist militancy on its southern and eastern borders, the bloc is about to lose one its major military powers.
“After Brexit, France becomes the most important military power in continental Europe," said Edward Lucas of The Economist. "And I think that European security arrangements will have to reflect that.”
Currently 4,000 French troops are fighting Islamist militancy in North Africa.
President Emmanuel Macron wants EU allies to do more.
Speaking on a trip to visit French forces in Mali last month, he said he wanted to strengthen European partnerships, in particular with Germany, and ensure the German engagement intensifies.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel does not want European security tied to a Franco-German military alliance, says Lucas.
“Because she is very keen to keep America fully involved in the defense of Europe,” he said.
The European Union is establishing a command center and $560 million defense fund, part of an emerging common defense policy. EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini says it will compliment existing military structures.
“We are not suggesting in any way to substitute duplicate or compete with NATO. This has to be clear," she said.
NATO has deployed several thousand troops in Eastern Europe to deter Russia. The European Union is no substitute, says Michael Wolffsohn of the University of the German Armed Forces in Munich, who spoke to VOA via Skype.
“Most of the continental European armies are simply unprepared for any military intervention with the possible exception of the French armed forces. But the Bundeswehr [German armed forces] is completely overloaded, underfinanced and under-equipped,” he said.
Britain has long objected to an EU military force . But as Brexit talks begin, closer military integration is already underway, and France is taking the lead.