France’s Macron Calls for Creating a ‘European Army’ - WSJ

French President Emmanuel Macron called for the creation of a “true European army,” issuing a sharp critique of trans-Atlantic security ties days before U.S. President Trump is due to visit France.

Europe’s security ties with the U.S., which have been a bedrock of the continent’s stability for decades, have come under strain as Mr. Trump has demanded more military spending from European members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and questioned the alliance’s benefits for the U.S. Such tensions have led Mr. Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel to publicly question whether the continent can still rely on the U.S. to come to Europe’s defense.

Mr. Macron went a step further by grouping the U.S. among foreign powers he considers a potential threat to the continent. “We have to protect ourselves with respect to China, Russia and even the United States of America,” Mr. Macron said on French radio.

Mr. Macron made the remarks as part of a weeklong tour of World War I battlefields ahead of the centenary of the Nov. 11 Armistice, when the French leader is due to host Mr. Trump, Vladimir Putin of Russia and many other heads of state.

Europe is the  “main victim,” Mr. Macron said, of Mr. Trump’s decision to withdraw from the landmark 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. That accord prohibits the use of intermediate- and shorter-range rockets, as well as testing, producing or fielding new ground-based missiles.

“We will not protect the Europeans unless we decide to have a true European army,” Mr. Macron said.

Tensions between European leaders and the U.S. have escalated at a time when the Trump administration has increased its defense spending in Europe. U.S. military funding specifically earmarked for Europe reached $4.77 billion this year, compared with $789 million the year Mr. Trump was elected. That has left Europe as reliant on the U.S. as ever, because the gap in relative military capabilities has widened since the Cold War.

Outside of NATO, European powers have long struggled to link their militaries, even on initiatives as basic as buying simple equipment.

European countries have experimented with putting brigades under each other’s command. But no significant merging of forces has ever been achieved outside of specific European Union military missions, which tend to focus on training foreign armies or police.

In Brussels, the idea of an EU army has long had prominent supporters among those who believe European defense and foreign policy collaboration have fallen far behind cooperation on economic policies.

Following Russia’s annexation of Crimea, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in March 2015 said the bloc needs its own military force to be taken seriously in international affairs. He has also proposed that foreign policy decisions should be taken on a majority vote, stripping capitals of their veto on these decisions.

Britain’s planned exit from the bloc has also freed up Brussels to increase its defense ambitions. London had repeatedly blocked EU plans to bolster its military cooperation.

Over the past couple of years, the EU has launched a fund for defense research, and the bloc has ratcheted up efforts to force member states to put defense contracts out to tender across the bloc. The EU has also launched a new initiative that sets out key defense-procurement needs and encourages clusters of member states to submit joint projects to develop them.

Yet these early steps fall far short of Mr. Macron’s aspirations. Indeed, Paris has been sufficiently frustrated by the pace of European defense progress that Mr. Macron has proposed a non-EU military-intervention force that would include the U.K.

“We need a Europe which defends itself better alone, without just depending on the United States, in a more sovereign manner,” said Mr. Macron, who has generally enjoyed warm ties with Mr. Trump.

Meanwhile, a host of European countries, including Germany, are still struggling to lift their defense spending toward the NATO agreed target of 2% of GDP, although European defense spending, including non-EU countries like Turkey, has increased some $50 billion since the start of 2015, according to NATO.

Given those constraints, most European officials have been circumspect about talk of creating an EU army. Federica Mogherini, the bloc’s foreign policy chief, said last year such a prospect was “50, 60 or 100 years away.”

On Tuesday, European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas welcomed the French president’s ambitions but also said talk of an EU army was premature. Cooperation should begin in the areas of research, procurement and funding, Mr. Schinas said, adding: “I don’t think this defense identity will start with an EU army.”

—Daniel Michaels in Brussels contributed to this article.

Write to Stacy Meichtry at and Laurence Norman at