European Union leaders pledged to promote small-scale military projects like research into drones and the improvement of midair refueling equipment as Britain ruled out bigger steps toward a common European defense.
EU leaders said drone research would start next year. A fleet of drones, all nationally managed, is eyed for 2025, 13 years after the bloc missed a previous deadline for developing the pilotless planes.
Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain, which looks to the U.S. and NATO as military partners and is considering pulling out of the EU, reassured his voters that the U.K. isn’t outsourcing its security.
“It makes sense for nation states to cooperate over matters of defense,” Cameron told reporters at a two-day EU summit in Brussels that ends today. “But it isn’t right for the European Union to have capabilities, armies, air forces and the rest of it, and we need to get that demarcation right.”
North Atlantic Treaty Organization Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen didn’t share Cameron’s concerns about EU mission creep, instead welcoming the commitment to build up European firepower amid dwindling budgets.
Other leaders sought to reassure Cameron by downplaying the EU’s defense ambitions
“This is not about creating a European army,” Rasmussen told reporters after taking part in the summit. “I don’t see any contradiction between a strengthened defense in Europe and a strong NATO.”
French President Francois Hollande, a proponent of a more active EU defense policy, said Cameron’s concerns were unfounded. “There was never any plan for the European Union to buy military equipment and field military forces,” Hollande said. “It’s very easy to claim victories by making claims ahead of European summits.”
Away from summits, Britain has been more pragmatic. It has taken part in all four military missions currently under the EU flag: an anti-piracy naval force off the coast of Somalia, peacekeeping in Bosnia-Herzegovina and the training of local soldiers in Somalia and Mali.
Hollande thanked Britain for providing airlift capacity for France’s military interventions this year in Mali and the Central African Republic.
Efforts to build an independent European defense peaked with a British-French accord in 1998, only to fall apart amid divisions over the Iraq war. Drops in defense spending of 10 percent from 2005-2010 and another 10 percent since then have further stunted European capabilities.
France, which rivals Britain’s military might, said Poland and other European countries are considering sending personnel to back up its mission to stabilize the Central African Republic, potentially transforming the intervention into a European operation, making it eligible for EU funds.
“It’s not good politically for Europe for France to be alone,” Hollande said. “It’s not a financial question.”
Hollande said he didn’t expect any nation besides France to send combat troops. Poland is mobilizing a C-130 Hercules transport plane, and will station 50 men at the airport in Bangui, the airport.
Hollande pushed at the EU summit for the bloc to set up a fund to finance EU military operations. He won just an agreement to study how to make financing missions more efficient.