Ursula von der Leyen demands an EU army - saying Afghanistan proves it needs its own force

15 September 2021, 23:32 | Updated: 17 September 2021, 17:59

Ursula von der Leyen said the EU needs willpower to create a force
Ursula von der Leyen said the EU needs willpower to create a force. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

The EU needs willpower to create its own army, Ursula von der Leyen has said, using the Taliban's conquest of Afghanistan to encourage support for a European military capability.

A fear of whether the British military could eventually be subsumed into an EU force were raised in Brexit-backing circles.

Earlier this month, the EU considered setting up a reaction force of about 5,000 troops – to member state opposition.

European Commission president von der Leyen said the fall of Afghanistan – in which the US withdrawal caused other countries to leave too – raised "deeply troubling questions".

She admonished the EU for lacking political will for holding back the concept of an EU force.

"Witnessing events unfold in Afghanistan was profoundly painful for all the families of fallen servicemen and servicewomen," Ms von der Leyen said in the EU parliament in Strasbourg, as part of her "State of the European Union address".

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"To make sure that their service will never be in vain, we have to reflect on how this mission could end so abruptly."

And she went to say: "What has held us back until now is not just a shortfall of capacity - it is the lack of political will.

"If we develop this political will, there is a lot that we can do at EU level."

Earlier in September, the EU debated setting up a standby force for the bloc made up of about 5,000 troops, which could deploy to crises like the Kabul airport evacuation.

It has faced opposition from 22 of the EU members which are also part of Nato – especially states bordering Russia which rely on the US to deter its neighbour in the wake of the Ukraine and Georgia conflicts.

Anger at President Joe Biden's insistence to withdraw from Afghanistan before the September 11 20th anniversary, and the chaos as the former government collapsed, has led to British questions over how much it can rely on the US.

The UK continues to insist America it its key ally, and Ms von der Leyen admitted Nato needs to remain the priority.

But she added: "Europe can, and clearly should, be able and willing to do more on its own", and said that "it is time for Europe to step up to the next level".

The EU has the ability to deploy battlegroups made up of member states' forces but they have never been sent out.