Ahead of the NATO summit in Brussels this week (July 11-12), nine EU member states – including Spain and Portugal – have signed a letter of intent to develop a new French-led European Intervention Initiative (EI2).
France has long insisted that Europe needs autonomous defence capabilities that complement NATO while allowing for faster response to crises. The EU, for its part, has recently launched several new initiatives aimed at this, including the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO). However, France’s efforts are hyper-focused on immediate response solutions, an aspect that is often difficult to execute in larger organisations. Moreover, the EU’s – and NATO’s – focus tends to be on the East, while France’s ideas are centred on addressing security threats to Europe’s southern flank.
In fact, the idea for EI2 is rooted in the French intervention in Mali in 2013, in which France had warned its European partners of the Islamist terror threat in Mali throughout 2012 without much effect. France intervened in Mali at the last minute to prevent an Islamist extremist takeover of the capital. It was only after this that EU partners agreed to collective action.
Fast-forward four years and French President Emmanuel Macron, in his Sorbonne speech in September 2017, introduced his idea of a new European intervention force that would be able to quickly coalesce and assist in missions like the one in Mali and the Central African Republic, where the French intervened from 2013-2016 to stop mass killing after a rebellion ousted the country’s former president.