Critics said the European Commission President’s calls for boots on the ground raises questions over whether eurocrats should be in charge of a militarised bloc. It came after Mrs von der Leyen accused EU leaders of lacking the “political will” to deploy Brussels-led troops around the world. The former German defence minister insisted the bloc should be able to send “battlegroups” into combat zones without the help of the US.
She told MEPs that the abrupt end to the US-led mission in Afghanistan raised questions about the bloc’s capabilities.
And she urged EU nations to put aside long-held reservations about putting boots on the ground and build a “Defence Union”.
“There will be missions where Nato or the United Nations will not be present but where Europe should be,” Mrs von der Leyen today told the EU Parliament in Strasbourg.
But Critics say soldiers should not be sent into combat under the banner of the Brussels project.
Romanian MEP Cristian Terhes said: “The EU is not a country and should not have its own army.
“While Nato is a defence alliance, an EU army implies that such battlegroups will be offensive.
“Which European authority will declare war on another country and give the orders to attack another country?
“Will Ursula von der Leyen or Guy Verhofstadt be able to declare wars as they wish?”
EU nations have so far been unwilling to send troops into battle under an EU flag.
Brussels-led “battlegroups” were agreed in 2007 but have never been used because their deployment requires unanimous support from the 27-member bloc.
Mrs von der Leyen added: “You can have the most advanced forces in the world – but if you are never prepared to use them – of what use are they?
“What has held us back until now is not just a shortfall of capacity – it is the lack of political will.
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She ignored the sluggish start to the bloc’s jabs programme as she boasted of a European victory against the pandemic.
And the top eurocrat used the occasion to slam Britain’s rapid rollout of coronavirus vaccines.
“A pandemic is a marathon, not a sprint,” she said.