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European Defence Capabilities

Dáil Éireann Debate, Thursday - 13 May 2021

Thursday, 13 May 2021

Questions (3)

John Brady


3. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Defence the discussions that have taken place at EU level regarding the further militarisation of the EU leading towards the creation of an EU army. [25009/21]

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Oral answers (7 contributions) (Question to Defence)

What discussions have taken place at EU level on the further militarisation of the EU, leading to the creation of an EU army?

I want to be very clear that no discussions have taken place regarding the further militarisation of the EU or the creation of an European army. Defence and security remains a national competence, with any decision to deepen EU defence co-operation requiring unanimity. There is no provision in EU treaties for the creation of an EU army and no proposal has been set out to change this. Any such proposal would require treaty change and no such change has been proposed. The protocol on the concerns of the Irish people on the Treaty of Lisbon expressly states "The Treaty of Lisbon does not provide for the creation of a European army or for conscription to any military formation" and that "The Treaty of Lisbon does not affect or prejudice Ireland's traditional policy of military neutrality".

Co-operation between EU member states in defence matters continues through established channels including Permanent Structured Co-operation, PESCO, EU battle groups, EU missions and operations and the institutions of the EU, including the External Action Service, the European Defence Agency and the Commission.

The most recent meeting of EU defence ministers took place on 6 May in Brussels.

The agenda for this meeting contained three main items, namely, current affairs, which was an update on the Sahel, Mozambique and Ukraine, which are all a concern, a discussion on the crisis management pillar of the strategic compass and a lunch meeting with the NATO Secretary General on co-operation in theatres of operation.

I want to reassure the Deputy because he has asked this question before. There are no plans for an EU army and if there were, Ireland would not be part of it. That is not the approach we have ever taken through our EU membership. It is not allowed in EU treaties. The Deputy keeps raising this but it genuinely is really not an issue.

There is an attempt to further militarise the EU. We saw that quite recently when Ireland was named as one of 14 countries that support further militarisation through the rapid reaction force, which the Minister referenced previously. Not only can that venture be classified as being in contravention to Ireland’s long-standing and declared policy of neutrality, it also contradicts the Minister's intentions of presenting himself at the UN as an honest broker and a neutral voice in world affairs. It also represents a very clear snub of the non-aligned nations of the world that voted for Ireland in the belief that we were opting, as I said, for that honest broker.

I get why people join the Defence Forces. I get our active participation in neutrality and peacekeeping. There is a step in a completely different direction at European level, however. I have serious concerns about rowing back on our neutrality and all those arguments I have put forward. I look forward to the Minister's response.

The Deputy continues to raise these issues and I hope I continue to provide reassurance. As somebody who is very much involved in foreign policy and defence policy, let me reassure him that Ireland is not in the space of being part of a more militarised EU. We are in the space of co-operating with other EU countries when we can be a force for good in different parts of the world. That is what we are trying to do now in Mali, for example, where a number of our Defence Forces personnel are working in the EU operations. They are embedded with a German contingent and it works really well. We are also part of an EU training mission with other European countries, which is working well.

The expertise and skill set of Irish troops is being applied to try to save lives; that is what we do. We should not apologise for it or reframe that as somehow compromising Irish neutrality because it does not. We choose to go on whatever mission we go on. We go through a process in the Dáil and in the Government to make sure that is fully understood and transparent in terms of the decision-making process. That is what active neutrality means. We are not forced into any of these missions.

By all accounts, the EU High Representative, Vice-President Josep Borrell, has intentions and plans to send EU forces into Mozambique by the end of the year. I believe the Minister made reference to Mozambique already. It appears to me that the sole intent of this is to protect a French mining company. I want the Minister to answer that claim. Why would the EU be sending forces to Mozambique in a situation like that?

I absolutely fully support Ireland’s role in peacekeeping and active neutrality. That is something I absolutely applaud, and rightly so, we have received huge credit as an honest broker on that footing. If we were to go into ventures such as this in Mozambique and other scenarios, however, that will seriously question our neutrality. It is a further step towards militarisation within the EU, ultimately leading to an EU army, which the Minister said at this point is not the intention. I believe, however, that we are being dragged by the nose into such a scenario.

I ask the Deputy to read a little bit about what is happening in Cabo Delgado in northern Mozambique, where there have been terrorist attacks and people have been killed. It is important that the EU supports Mozambique to ensure that terrorist forces do not destabilise parts of the country and that we can protect civilians and a democratic system.

There are no plans for Ireland to be part of any Common Security and Defence Policy, CSDP, mission in Mozambique. I certainly defend the right of Portugal and other countries to try to give leadership, however, just like Ireland has done in other countries to try to intervene to support democracy and stability.

Many countries in Africa, unfortunately, and particularly the Horn of Africa, need support and intervention at different times. There are no ulterior motives here. I have been involved in a number of debates on the Mozambique issue. This is not about protecting economic interests but about trying to protect democracy and stability.

It is ironic that I am pushing Members on time limits because, unfortunately, some of the Deputies are not present. The Deputy who tabled the next priority question has been unavoidably detained so I will move on. With the Minister's permission, I might come back to that priority question. The next ordinary question is in the name of Deputy Jim O'Callaghan.

Question No. 4 replied to with Written Answers.