BRUSSELS - The chief of the European Union's executive arm said Wednesday it must do more in the defense field, starting with creation of an EU military headquarters and working toward a common military force, insisting the bloc's economic and cultural influence isn't enough to safeguard its place in today's uncertain world.
Jean-Claude Juncker, EU Commission president, said in a major speech that the 28-nation organization "should be stronger" militarily.
"Together we have to make sure that we protect our interests," Juncker told the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.
The EU leader stressed that the bloc's actions should take place in concert with the U.S.-led NATO defense alliance, to which 22 EU member states also belong.
"More European defense in Europe doesn't mean less trans-Atlantic solidarity," Juncker said.
The vote in June by British voters to withdraw from the European Union would deprive the EU of its militarily most capable member. France and Germany, the bloc's two most influential member states, recently submitted a proposal for greater EU defense coordination, ranging from creation of a logistics hub for pooling military transport to an EU military headquarters.
Earlier this year, U.S. President Barack Obama called on Europeans to do more in meeting common security threats like the Islamic State extremist group.
"We need a strong Europe to bear its share of the burden, working with us on behalf of our collective security," Obama said in Hannover, Germany, in April. Obama added: "I'll be honest, sometimes Europe has been complacent about its own defense."
Juncker said greater defense cooperation also makes economic sense for EU member nations, since it would reduce as much as 100 billion euros' worth of wasteful duplication of spending yearly. He said that by the end of 2016, he also will seek creation of a European defense fund to help spur military-related research and development.