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EU readies key guides for its defense, space postures during French presidency

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STUTTGART, Germany – French and European Union defense leaders have an ambitious timeline to develop the bloc’s key military strategy and space documents while Paris leads the EU Council for the next six months.

Defense ministers met this week in Brest, on the tip of western France, to make headway on an upcoming proposal dubbed the “Strategic Compass.” The meetings revolved around high-level security priorities for the Union including the space domain and Ukraine, two leaders said in a Thursday press briefing.

This week marked the first meeting of defense ministers since France assumed its six-month presidency of the EU Council, noted Josep Borrell, head of the Union’s foreign affairs and security policy.

Alternating between French and English throughout the in-person and virtual press conference, Borrell said the EU’s “Strategic Compass” document – which has been described as the bloc’s first defense white paper – would be released in March.

It is expected to lay out a cohesive strategic vision for the EU’s security and defense through 2030, addressing innovation investments, supply chain and logistics issues, and the promotion of mechanisms such as the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) and the European Defence Fund (EDF). The hope is it will bring individual nations’ defense and military investments closer together to minimize fragmentation, inefficiencies and duplication.

Completing this document is “the number-one priority” for France during its presidency of the EU Council, and will help the EU become a “master of its destiny” in the defense and security realm, said French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly.

“This compass will allow for … a Europe fully capable of protecting its people, that does not submit to the appetites and priorities of others, and that is capable of defending its interests by speaking with one voice,” she said.

Space sovereignty and security will be an important topic for the EU going forward, and the French will provide a “very important contribution” towards that objective, Borrell said. Defense leaders agreed to develop an EU-centered space strategy to be completed sometime next year, and launched initial discussions during their meeting in Brest, he added.

In March, France will host the second iteration of a new space exercise dubbed ASTERX in Toulouse, Parly noted. “This will give us the occasion to once again meet to reflect upon the way we should think about this European defensive space strategy,” she said.

Under its EU Council presidency, Paris will also plan a new maritime exercise, to take place this year in the northwest of the Indian Ocean, drawing upon its experience leading maritime policy among nations in the Gulf of Guinea. “There is a necessity to develop a more globally coordinated maritime presence,” Parly said. France also plans to release a new “seabed warfare strategy” in 2022, she added.

Aligned on Ukraine

The European Union has followed the escalating standoff between Russia and Western nations about Ukraine, Borrell noted. The EU chief diplomat traveled to the country’s Donbas region last week in the first visit of a high-level EU official to the area since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, he said.

There have been “more than 100 contacts” between U.S. and EU officials on the topic “at all levels,” he added. While the ongoing dialogue with Russia on the situation in Ukraine “is a must,” Borrell emphasized that the bloc’s position “remains the same.”

“Any further aggression against Ukraine will have massive consequences and severe costs for Russia,” he said. The EU has allocated 30 million euros (U.S. $35 million) to increase Ukrainian “ballistic” capacities, and will prepare a new mission to help the nation counter potential cyber attacks, he noted.

Vivienne Machi is a reporter based in Stuttgart, Germany, contributing to Defense News’ European coverage. She previously reported for National Defense Magazine, Defense Daily, Via Satellite, Foreign Policy and the Dayton Daily News. She was named the Defence Media Awards’ best young defense journalist in 2020.

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