Germany hopes Britain won’t block EU reforms: Defence Minister

Germany hopes Britain won’t block EU reforms: Defence MinisterGerman Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen said she does not expect Britain to block a Franco-German initiative to deepen military cooperation among the 27 remaining European Union members after Britain's vote to leave the bloc, Reuters reported on Monday.

Berlin and Paris have proposed reviving EU common defense plans long blocked by Britain, partly to give the bloc a sense of purpose after Britons voted to quit the EU and also to counter the loss of the union's biggest defense spender.

British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon told The Times newspaper this month that London would resist any attempts to duplicate infrastructure that already existed in NATO.

However, von der Leyen told Reuters in an interview that she expected Britain to "make good its promise that it will not hinder important European Union reforms."

"… the initiative is designed for a strong Europe, and that this Europe also wants to have good relations with Britain in the future, especially in the area of defense," the Minister said.

Von der Leyen and the other EU defense ministers will discuss the proposals in Bratislava on Monday evening and Tuesday. She said all members were welcome to participate in the initiative, but it was not mandatory.

The proposals include a joint and permanent EU headquarters for civilian and military missions, possibly in Brussels, which London says will drain away finite resources when NATO already has its military command center, also in Belgium.

Most EU members, including Britain, France and Germany, are also NATO allies. But Europe wants to be able to act independently of the United States in its neighborhood.

Von der Leyen was upbeat about the initiative's chances, noting that some of her EU counterparts and even some government leaders had already expressed interest.

"There is definitely a chance that we can finally take a step forward that is long overdue," the Minister said. "After Brexit, the EU must show that it is capable of acting and that the bloc offers specific advantages."

A majority of people in the EU wanted quicker and more aggressive action on external security issues, von der Leyen said, citing the EU's response to the Ebola epidemic and the need to address problems prompting Africans to flee their homes.

She insisted the goal of the initiative was not to found a European army, but to tackle projects already covered under the EU treaty but never fully realized.
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