DAVOS, Switzerland — The EU is a master of rebuilding but must develop hard power — “credible military capabilities” — to influence world events, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told the World Economic Forum on Wednesday.
She stressed that these capabilities will be complementary to NATO and “different.”
“We must also do more when it comes to managing crises as they develop,” von der Leyen said in a keynote speech at the annual gathering of billionaires and business titans in Switzerland. “And for that, Europe also needs credible military capabilities and we have set up the building blocks of the European Defense Union. It is complementary to NATO and it is different.”
She added, “There is a European way to foreign policy and foreign security policy where hard power is an important tool — without any question — but is never the only one.”
Von der Leyen, who was German defense minister before being tapped for the European Union’s top job last June, has previously endorsed the concept of an “EU army” — at least as a sort of rhetorical call for improving the bloc’s collective military and defense capabilities, if not a literal expectation of soldiers in EU uniforms. But the early days of her Commission, with flare-ups of conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa, have only highlighted the EU’s limited capabilities and influence.
In her speech on Wednesday, von der Leyen acknowledged that the EU had at times been caught flat-footed in responding to geopolitical conflicts, and even conceded that EU countries have at times been too divided on foreign policy, particularly in the case of the civil war in Libya.
“This is about Europe shaping its own future,” von der Leyen said. “But to be more assertive in the world, we know we must step up in some fields. Recent events have exposed where we have to do more. Libya shows the cost of division and hesitation.
“It takes very little power to break a fragile balance, but the true power lies in putting the pieces back together again,” she said. “During the last decade, Europeans learnt the importance of a stable neighborhood. From Ukraine to the shores of the Mediterranean, from the Western Balkans to the Sahel, we have learnt the importance to invest more in long-term stability and to prevent crises. This is where Europe can make a real difference.”
She continued, “We are the largest donor for development cooperation — in fact, we invest in this more than the rest of the world combined.” But, noting that it was not enough, she then made her pitch for “credible military capabilities.”
The U.S. has often pushed back against EU defense initiatives by warning that they could overlap with the responsibilities of NATO and create redundancies. Washington’s concerns, in turn, often prompt hesitation on the part of some EU countries, particularly in Eastern Europe and the Baltics, where capitals rely most heavily on the U.S. for security against Russia.
In her speech, von der Leyen said the EU, while aspiring to greater military strength, would still put a premium on its soft-power expertise. “Hard power always comes with diplomacy and conflict prevention,” she said. “It always comes with reconciliation and reconstruction, which is by the way something Europeans know well, because we have gone through this, here in Europe.”
Click Here: Putters