By Gabriela Baczynska
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Union leaders meeting next week will agree to boost cooperation in the areas of security and defense and express support for global trade and the Paris agreement on fighting climate change, according to a draft joint statement.
The EU leaders will convene in Brussels on June 22-23, in the same week that long-awaited talks on Britain’s exit from the bloc are due to begin in the biggest setback for European integration in six decades.
Determined to show that an EU of 27 – minus Britain – can still thrive, the bloc is pushing for closer defense ties, something London has long opposed.
“The joint development of capability projects commonly agreed by Member States to fill the existing major shortfalls and develop the technologies of the future is key to fulfilling the EU level of ambition,” the document reads.
It gives top EU backing to the already-proposed joint financing for research and development in Europe’s fractured defense industry, and pushes for working out financing details for the bloc’s joint battle groups that have never been used.
France and Germany revived talk of the EU’s long-stalled efforts at expanding military cooperation following the Brexit referendum a year ago.
“It must be our goal to develop common, pan-European capabilities,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told fellow conservatives on Tuesday, adding that she and French President Emmanuel Macron had agreed to work together more closely to strengthen defense and security.
Merkel said trans-Atlantic ties would remain critically important, but the EU needed to expand its ability to deal with regional conflicts and protect its external borders.
“We simply have to take on more responsibility,” she said.
U.S. President Donald Trump’s uneasy relationship with Europe and lukewarm stance on NATO have given the tentative push for more defense cooperation greater momentum.
The draft conclusions mirrored much of the language favoring open markets previously seen from EU leaders, though with a greater emphasis now on “fair” as well as “free” trade. The document said the EU saw merit in seeking further steps to create stronger trade defenses and screen foreign investments.
France, Germany and Italy have mooted the idea of allowing the EU to block Chinese investment in Europe, partly because European companies are denied similar access in China and because of risks that Beijing may acquire prized European technology.
An EU-China summit earlier this month was overshadowed by divisions on trade.
The leaders will encourage progress in free trade talks with Mexico and the Mercosur bloc of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay and say recent progress in negotiations with Japan “paves the way for an early political agreement”.
Despite Trump’s announcement that he was pulling the United States out of the global accord on climate change, EU leaders are due to express their full backing for the accord.
“The European Council strongly reaffirms the EU commitment to swiftly and fully implement the Paris Agreement on Climate Change,” they will say.
“The Agreement remains a cornerstone for global efforts to effectively tackle climate change, and cannot be renegotiated.”
(Additional reporting by Philip Blenkinsop and Andreas Rinke; Editing by Gareth Jones)