No Britain, no missiles! EU has 'lot riding on' working with UK - ex-Macron defence aide

Opinion piece (The Express)
Francois Heisbourg
14 August 2017

Francois Heisbourg said the UK was one of only two two countries in Europe, alongside France, that has missile and nuclear capabilities and that it will continue to be an important player after Brexit. 

In a boost to our negotiators he said keeping Britain involved in the European defence industry will be vital long after the bloc has left the club and is crucial to both French and German military and economic interests. 

Mr Heisbourg, who advised Mr Macron on his defence policy before the French election, made the remarks in a podcast discussion for the London-based think tank the Centre for European Reform. 

During that time he presented the then candidate with a report confirming that the UK is the “most important” military player in Europe and must be kept on side long after Brexit. 

Asked whether it was vital to France and the EU’s interests to keep Britain close after Brexit, he replied: “The short answer is yes of course, and the long answer is yes, of course but it’s not as simple as that.” 

The defence expert explained: “Britain and France have deeply integrated some of their key defence industrial capabilities, notably in the field of missiles. 

“Europe’s main ability in the field of missiles is now Franco-British. There’s a joint interest of course to maintain that level of integration because it’s actually one of the most important rationalisations in terms of cost saving and efficiency that we’ve had over the last 20 years. 

“We’ve also been bringing together the management of our nuclear stockpiles, which is obviously a rather delicate and important issue, and Britain and France are the only two countries to have nuclear weapons in Europe so they’re pretty obvious natural partners.”

He added: “And there’s a lot of work going on between France and Britain in the field of non piloted combat air vehicles, fighting drones. 

“There is a lot riding on the preservation of the Franco-British bilateral defence relationship and that relationship, I think in order to prosper, will have to have some sort of access to the European defence funds.” 

Mr Heisbourg said that the EU was “quite good at finding ways to to ad hoc operations” and said both Britain and Norway could be involved in European defence projects despite being third countries. 

That could mean British and Norwegian companies continuing to be eligible for EU research and development grants, and being able to bid for lucrative contracts, despite not coming from member states. 

He said: “Switzerland, which is not part of the European economic space, has been part of the European bidding process for research and development and actually one of the better performing countries in that framework.

“So if we could do it for Switzerland there’s no particular reason why we shouldn’t be able to do it for Norway or Britain.” 

Mr Heisbourg also said there was a pressing need for Angela Merkel to ensure that Britain remains involved in EU defence initiatives after Brexit given UK firms’ significant involvement in aircraft manufacturer Airbus. 

He said: “Germany also has an interest in this kind of solution because Airbus although it’s primarily a Franco-German-Spanish company has a substantial part of its subcontractor activity in the UK preserving the value chain is going to be quite important for Airbus.”

You can listen to the full podcast here François Heisbourg on Franco-German defence co-operation and the EU defence fund
Sophia Besch speaks to Francois Heisbourg about the future of European defence co-operation and about why he thinks the EU’s proposal for a European defence fund has potential.

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