As France prepares to rejoin Nato’s military command, euronewsmet French Defence Minister Hervé Morin, to find out how he sees relations developing between France and Nato, what he thinks the future of the European Defence Policy is, and to get his thoughts on tackling pirates off Somalia.
euronews: Herve Morin, Hello and welcome to euronews.
Hervé Morin: Hello
euronews: We are seeing more and more attacks on shipping by pirates off the coast of Somalia. The EU Atalante mission has eight boats at its disposal to patrol two million square kilometres of ocean. Do you think that is enough?
HM: You have to remember that Europe, as the result of a Franco-Spanish initiative, is behind this huge operation, which is in fact the first EU naval operation of its kind. It is a great example of European co-operation because it is being led by a British naval commander from a base in the UK. The British are always accused of being reticent about being involved in EU defence issues, but here they are in charge of Atalante. This operation, created by and led by the EU, also includes the military capabilities of Nato and the navies of other countries as well.
euronews: …but 20 thousand ships to keep an eye on..
HM: Yes, 20 thousand ships to keep an eye on..its clear that even if we foil a lot of pirate attacks, we are still not capable of making sure the whole area is safe.
euronews: The EU has earmarked 60 million euros to help with the reconstruction of Somalia – do you think this is the key to resolving the problem?
HM: You have a point. We are focussing on the consequences more than the cause. The main cause is the collapse of the Somali state and the lack of any governmental framework.
euronews: and poverty as well..
HM: Of course, when a fisherman earns only one dollar a day, its a big temptation to get involved in more lucrative work, like piracy. The piracy we are seeing here is akin to organised crime. But what is clear is that we must make an effort to reconstruct the Somali state and can I just say that in this respect, France will play a role in helping train the first contingents of troops for Somalia’s army, at our base in Djibouti.
euronews: One place where many countries are bogged down is Afghanistan. NATO has been there for eight years now but its said the Taliban occupy 72 percent of the territory. How do you think we will get out of this situation, which looks like it is never-ending?
HM: We are quick to point the finger at things that don’t work out but we also forget the progress that has been made in many areas. Nowadays there are six million children, including young girls, receiving an education, thousands of kilometres of roads have been laid down, up to 70 percent of Afghans have access to healthcare, all of this thanks to the international community. But its still not enough – what we must do is bring Afghanistan to the point where it can govern itself. It needs an army, a police force, a judiciary and a legal system. For several years now we have been working on building up an army and that is now paying off, the Afghan army is now taking shape. In hindsight, we were a bit slow off the mark with the police, which is why we want to put more effort into helping that get off the ground.
euronews: Nicolas Sarkozy has said if Europe wants to be a united force, it must be friends with the US. France has now rejoined the NATO military command – do you think this will reduce its diplomatic clout?
HM: I am sure, like me, you can understand that we were in a bit of a strange position. We have been sending troops on NATO missions since 1995. We have taken part in all NATO’s major operations. As part of NATO, our soldiers are taking the same risks as all the others, for example in Afghanistan. And yet we were not among the major players who made these choices, we did not belong to the decision-making body. It was a strange contradiction.
euronews: But France has always had the reputation of speaking up in NATO while others keep their counsel…will you continue to do that?
HM: Why wouldn’t I?
euronews: Will we have to support the US in everything?
HM: Why do you think we would have to do that?
euronews: Because it is often said that NATO is the tool of the US.
HM: We have been members of the Alliance since 1949. The military Chief of Staff has sat on NATO committees for ten years now, we have been part of the strategic reserve forces since 1999. We have been part of the rapid reaction force since 2003 and none of this has stopped us from going against US policy, for example last year when, along with Germany, we opposed the accession of Ukraine and Georgia into NATO.
euronews: By fully rejoining NATO, does France hope to win US support for a European defence policy?
HM: When I became Defence Minister and I had my first discussions with my American counterpart, an integrated EU defence policy was seen, as it was also by many EU member states, as a French idea which could or which was aimed at weakening the NATO alliance. They thought we had a hidden agenda. But these days, you have heard Barack Obama say how vital it is. These days the Germans, who for a long time were very reticent about ideas like the creation of an EU planning and command centre have now accepted it. The British are in charge of the EU Atalante operation in Somalia. So an EU defence policy is now being seen as a way for us to have an independent military capability, without that being a risk to NATO. Thats what France wants to do – find a balance between an autonomous EU defence policy and NATO.
euronews: European defence hasn’t really come on much since the idea was first mooted 11 years ago. Its still very dependant on the goodwill of each member state and we have seen with Iraq that sometimes there is a lot of division. Is a joint defence policy possible without a common political policy?
HM: An EU defence policy is like a mutual insurance system combined with an autonomous military capability. And this military capability is still too small, if you ask me. There was some progress during the French EU presidency, but it also depends on the money available in each EU state, in other words there has to be enough in the pot to pay for everything.
euronews: We are about a month away from the European elections, you are also the leader of the conservative “New Centre” party. The latest polls suggest that 66 percent of EU citizens won’t even turn out to vote. Why do you think that is?
HM: When you elect the members of the European Parliament, you are choosing men and women who you feel are most likely to play a part in EU policy-making. I think we need to reform the election process, with European listings, so that we know we are electing a clear majority and an opposition, because the European Parliament has a lot of power, more or less that of the French Parliament.