France Continues its Quest for a Stronger European Union

France seeks to strengthen the mutual assistance clause of the Treaty on the European Union. EU states that are not NATO member states should be protected if an attack occurred.

Just one week ago, French President Emmanuel Macron called on Europeans to step up their defense efforts because they could no longer rely on NATO. “What we are currently experiencing is the brain death of NATO,” Macron had said.

Now, France calls on the Member States of the European Union to improve the EU’s defense preparedness and to become more independent of NATO’s protection. For this purpose, according to France’s idea, the mutual assistance clause (Article 42 (7) of the EU Treaty), which obliges all other states to provide the greatest possible support in the event of an armed attack on a member state, must be specified.

The operationalization of the mutual assistance clause should be strengthened to ensure that any EU country, regardless of the size of its military or diplomatic network, can swiftly evoke activate Article 42 (7),” the French government argues.

In case of an attack, the measures proposed should lead to the effective support of smaller EU countries such as Sweden and Finland, which together with Cyprus, Malta, Austria, and Ireland are not members of NATO.

At the same time, European NATO member states should also be able to assist in the event of an attack if NATO – for example, due to a veto by the US or Turkey – is unable to provide a collective defense under Article 5.

To improve the effectiveness of the mutual assistance clause, France furthermore urges that the European External Action Service (EEAS) can act as a “coordinating hub” for assistance from 26 EU countries at the request of the country under attack.

In the meantime, EU states are to identify capability gaps in so-called Tabletop Exercises (TTX) and “develop the willingness to act” when Article 42 (7) requires military or civilian assistance to a challenged state. According to France, the “scope of the clause must be reconsidered” and clarified, for example, whether assistance should also be provided in cases of cyberattacks or hybrid warfare.

On behalf of the Member States, the EEAS is currently preparing a confidential analysis of how the EU assistance clause can be improved. France sought to put the subject on the agenda at the meeting of EU defense ministers last Tuesday. However, a majority of Member States refused, pointing to the pending analysis of the EEAS and the need to include EU foreign ministers in the debate.

France’s plan reaffirms Macron’s passion for a Europe, capable of protecting itself after the America First policies have left Pax America in shambles. With potentially additional four years with Trump in the White House, a self-reliant Europe has become the sine qua non for the EU’s future defense and Macron appears to be one of the few European leaders, who are fully cognizant of it.