Monday, December 16, 2013
PARIS (AP) — France is pushing its European partners this week to create a fund to pay for overseas military interventions, like the operation France is leading in the Central African Republic. Other European governments aren't too excited about the idea.
The dispute exposes a divide between France, which has several military bases abroad and argues that Europe has a responsibility to former colonies in Africa, and countries like Germany that are wary in today's economic times of intervening and spending taxpayer money abroad.
If European countries were to pitch in to such a fund, they would likely want to decide how that money is used. And they might not want France sending its troops to foreign theaters so often, and using the money to fund its own geopolitical ambitions.
French President Francois Hollande defended the Central African Republic intervention Monday, while paying homage to two French soldiers killed in combat amid sectarian violence in the largely lawless country.
If France "weren't there, no other army in this part of the world — Africa — would be able to launch such an operation to save lives and establish peace," Hollande said.
He called last week for a "permanent European fund" to finance emergency military interventions, before a U.N. peacekeeping operation can be put in place. He will push the idea at a summit of European Union leaders Thursday and Friday.
This fund could also be a step toward a common European defense system, an idea Hollande has been pushing to little avail.
At an EU foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels on Monday, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said it's up to the 28 member states to decide "how they want to use their resources."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who will meet Hollande in Paris on Wednesday, said last week that the subject was still up for discussion.
The Poles support the principle of coordinating Europe's efforts in crisis situations, but want to hear the specifics of Hollande's proposal and the reaction of other EU countries, said Artur Habant, spokesman for Poland's mission to the European Union.
In any case, such a fund could potentially create big conflicts among the EU's members.
"If other countries are to contribute then they need to have a say in the policymaking too. And that's precisely where I see the problem," said Sabine von Oppeln, a political scientist at Berlin's Free University.
"On the one hand France conducts a unilateral Africa policy, on the other hand they demand solidarity from other Europeans."
France has struggled to persuade other Europeans to help with the operation in Central African Republic, a former French colony. While Poland, Britain, Germany, Spain and Belgium have provided various forms of assistance, French troops are the only Europeans on the ground.
The EU provides 50 million euros ($68 million) for the African Union-led mission in the country.
France, which has also spent about 600 million euros ($827.5 million) on an anti-terrorist intervention in Mali this year, may seek relief from EU budget deficit rules to be able to pay for all these operations.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius left his meetings Monday with European counterparts upbeat, saying they showed "unanimity" in their support for the Central African mission. But in their final statement, the ministers said only that they "welcome" France's military intervention and urged the warring religious militias to lay down their arms.
Raf Casert and John-Thor Dahlburg in Brussels, and Frank Jordans and Geir Moulson in Berlin, contributed to this report.