President Emmanuel Macron said he made some progress on Monday in persuading some of France’s EU allies to consider a more home-based defense strategy, building on a German-led effort to jointly procure air defense systems from outside Europe. sharp contrast.
France was rattled by Germany’s announcement in October, along with 14 NATO allies, that it was buying some of the systems from the United States and Israel to protect allied territory from missile attacks following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Since then, some 17 countries, including the Baltic states, the United Kingdom and several Eastern European powers that have traditionally turned to the United States for military equipment, have signed up to the so-called European Skyshield programme.
But on Monday, Macron said France, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia and Hungary had signed a letter of intent to jointly buy the French Mistral air defense system built by missile maker MBDA, confirming an earlier Reuters report.
“When we talk about air defense, it would be wrong to rush (increase) capabilities. The issue is first and foremost strategic,” Macron told a defense conference of some 20 countries on the sidelines of the Paris Air Show.
“Ukraine has shown that we can only give Kiev what we own and produce. Stuff from non-European countries is more difficult to manage. It is subject to timetables, priorities and sometimes even authorization from third countries,” he added.
In the long run, EU needs to have its own, says Macron strategic autonomy Rather than relying specifically on the United States through NATO. The key is to build up the European defense industry and make procurement within the EU.
France is one of the world’s largest arms exporters.
Concerned that a European-wide solution could take decades, Berlin decided to seek mature off-the-shelf systems for SkyShield, such as the Raytheon-built American Patriot, Israel’s Arrow 3, and the newer German IRIS-T system.
Germany later opened the door for France to join the group by adding the French-Italian-made MAMBA system to the list of air defense systems available to Sky Shield members. But France has refused to join an initiative it believes would create new dependencies, an issue that has become a bone of contention between Berlin and Paris.
A French defense official said earlier that discussions needed to go beyond air defense and look at threat analysis, a combination of defensive, offensive and counter-drone capabilities, and the nuclear umbrella.
At the Paris meeting three days after the NATO defense ministers meeting, German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius wholeheartedly defended the German initiative, according to one source.
A spokesman for the German Ministry of Defense denied any competition between the German and French plans.
“The (European Shield) initiative is not a competition with NATO or the EU. Everything that is bought can be integrated into existing structures. This means we are not a competitor to the Le Bourget France conference,” he said.
“France and Spain are obviously invited to (German-led) initiative. France participated in the first meeting. The initiative is open to other countries that may wish to join,” he added.
Ukraine has already secured some IRIS-T from Germany as it scrambles to get as many Western air defenses as possible to protect cities and critical infrastructure from Russian air strikes in the face of a shortage.
On Monday, Macron said the French-Italian MAMBA system had now been deployed in Ukraine. “It’s Europe protecting Europe,” he said.