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Sarkozy talks up European defence

Mark Mardell | 09:59 UK time, Thursday, 12 March 2009

sarkonatoafp203.jpgPresident Nicolas Sarkozy's speech about Nato was full of scathing sarcasm. "We are willing to put troops on the ground, but it's too much to risk generals going to committees," was the thrust of one such barb. France is the fourth biggest contributor to Nato after all, and they have thousands of troops in Afghanistan. My colleague, Emma Jane Kirby, has been on patrol with them and you should be able to see her report on Newsnight on Monday.

But besides making his main case, the president peppered his speech with arguments for developing a "Europe of Defence" which doesn't translate well into English, perhaps in more ways than one. For years, there were many in the United States who saw the development of the European defence policy as a Gaullist strategy, an alternative and rival to Nato. But more recently (and I mean well before the election) most had come round to the idea that if the Europeans could look after themselves as well as police troubled parts of the world, then it was one less burden for the US to bear. A strong development of European defence is doubtless part of the quid pro quo of France returning to the top table of Nato.

Mr Sarkozy said it would have happened sooner, if it hadn't been for the French people rejecting the Lisbon Treaty. He said the treaty would have "guaranteed Europe's security for many years" by an "obligation of solidarity". He pointedly said that it was now a neutral country, Ireland, which was, as he put it, blocking the treaty.

The French parliamentary vote on returning to Nato has become a vote of confidence in the government, so Mr Sarkozy will get his way. However, I am told up to 60 members of his party are unhappy. They think France's is diminishing its potential role in the world for no return.


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