Donald Trump’s plan to pull thousands of U.S. troops out of Germany shows why EU members need to take more responsibility for their own defense, European Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton said.
Breton, whose portfolio includes defense issues, said Trump’s announcement that he plans to cap the U.S. military presence in Germany at 25,000 troops was part of a longer-term trend of America wishing to reduce its commitment to NATO.
“If this announcement is followed by facts … cutting around one third of American troops who are stationed in Germany, that represents a continuity of facts, which obviously justifies that member states more and more take charge of their defense,” the French commissioner told POLITICO in an interview.
Breton stressed that this should all be done “in continuity with our alliances … with the United States and NATO” — a point that is key for Eastern European countries wary of any plans that could even be seen as undermining the Atlantic alliance.
Nevertheless, the Commission is keen to push ahead with plans that would encourage closer defense integration among EU member countries.
Breton now has responsibility for the fledgling European Defence Fund (EDF), intended to foster cooperation on research and development of military technology and equipment.
Breton, who had a stint as French finance minister but has spent most of his career in the private sector, argued for the creation of such a fund even before he joined the Commission.
Several years ago, he recalled, “as an informed citizen,” he went to see then-German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen, who is now his boss as European Commission president, to discuss the idea.
Breton is fighting to ensure the fund has as much money at its disposal as possible, as part of the larger battle over the EU’s long-term budget and a recovery fund to tackle the economic impact of the coronavirus crisis.
Under the Commission’s proposal, the fund would receive €8 billion. That is a considerable drop from the Commission’s first proposal of €11.5 billion when it presented its original long-term budget blueprint back in 2018.
However, Breton noted the Commission proposal was already significantly higher than the amount suggested by Finland, when it held the rotating presidency of the EU and presented a compromise for the overall EU budget. The Finns suggested almost halving the value of the EDF to €6 billion.
Breton said the latest plan showed a widespread desire to increase the size of the EDF from that proposal and he suggested that trend could continue as negotiations over the overall budget and recovery plan play out.
He added that he had heard from some member countries and many members of the European Parliament who wanted to see the amount further increased, by more than 10 percent.
“There is a willingness to increase and I haven’t heard that provoking voices of opposition — on the contrary, I’ve heard a certain amount of support,” he said. “I think that’s the trend.”