Juncker calls for EU defense HQ

Juncker calls for EU defense HQ

Juncker calls for EU defense HQ

European Commission's President Jean-Claude Juncker delivers a speech as he makes his State of the Union address to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, on September 14, 2016. AFP photo

The European Union should set up a headquarters to coordinate efforts towards creating a common military force, European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker said Sept. 14.

“We don’t have a permanent structure and without that, we are not able to work efficiently and so we must have a European HQ and... work towards a common military force,” Juncker was quoted as telling the European Parliament in his annual State of the Union address by AFP.

The speech was dominated by Britain’s shock June vote to quit the European Union, depriving it of a major, nuclear-armed NATO military power but one which had also been hostile to any suggestion the bloc should have its own army.

Juncker stressed that post-Brexit, the EU’s remaining 27 member states had to stick together and that included taking on increased responsibility for their defense.

“We can no longer depend on the power of individual member states and together we have to make sure we protect our interests,” he told MEPs.

Twenty-two of the EU’s 28 member states are also members of the U.S.-led NATO alliance, headquartered in Brussels, but Juncker insisted the bloc’s military ambitions would not undercut this key relationship.

“This should be complementary with NATO - more European defense does not mean less transatlantic solidarity,” he said.

Juncker gave no further details although it is expected that any such EU military HQ would also be based in Brussels, home to all its major institutions.

As well as an increased military role, Juncker also said the EU will have to step up its diplomatic presence, suggesting the bloc should have a single foreign minister.

Current foreign affairs head Federica Mogherini was doing a “remarkable job” in promoting peace in Syria but backed up by the member states, she should now have a seat at the negotiating table, he said.

‘Brexit won’t kill off EU’

Juncker also issued a rallying cry for unity after Brexit, saying the EU is not in danger of splitting up but must fight back against “galloping populism.”

“The European Union still does not have enough union,” Juncker said. “There are splits out there and often fragmentation where we need further union, that is leaving space for galloping populism.” 

Juncker’s keenly-awaited speech comes two days before the 27 EU leaders meet without Britain in the Slovakian capital Bratislava for a summit aimed at drawing up a roadmap for the future after the British vote to leave.

The head of the EU executive urged Britain to trigger its formal divorce as quickly as possible so that both sides can move on to face the challenges of a dangerous and uncertain world.

“We respect and at the same time regret the U.K. decision, but the European Union as such is not at risk,” said Juncker, who spoke in a mixture of German, French and English during the speech.

The 61-year-old former Luxembourg prime minister called for ties to “remain on a friendly basis” but warned London could not expect “a la carte” access to the EU’s single market if it brings back immigration controls.
Juncker also hit out at rising nationalism and racism, referring to the recent killing of a Polish man in Britain with the words: “We Europeans can never accept Polish workers being harassed, beaten up or even murdered on the streets of Harlow.”