EU's only remaining nuclear power France demands centre stage in EU army

Until recently, European security was reliant on its strong historic alliance with Washington, Mr Macron told the future elite of French armed forces at Paris’ Ecole de Guerre.

But he said it was vital Europe increased military spending and added: “Our security also depends, inevitably, on a greater capacity for autonomous action by Europeans.

The issue is not for Europeans to know whether they must defend themselves with or without Washington… Why are they not ready to make defence a budget priority and make the necessary sacrifices, even as the risks are growing?

Europeans must realise collectively that in the absence of a legal framework, they could rapidly face a new race for conventional weapons, even nuclear weapons, on their own soil.”

Mr Macron also positioned himself as the driving force for a united Europe, using France’s military clout to stress his point.

He said that European nations who wanted to do so, could be associated with French nuclear deterrence wargames.

He announced that France had reduced the number of its nuclear warheads to under 300, providing “the legitimacy to demand concrete moves from other nuclear powers toward global disarmament that is gradual, credible and can be verified”.

The French presidency did not elaborate on what form this association would take, but said this did not mean “sharing” French deterrence but rather “talking about it and deepening Europeans’ joint strategic culture”.

Friday’s speech was part of Mr Macron’s insistence that the bloc should strive for greater strategic autonomy in the face of growing global threats and stop relying solely on the United States and the Nato military alliance for its defence.

It also echoed the French leader’s previous and highly sensitive call for a “real European army” to reduce dependence on an increasingly inward-looking US.

We have to protect ourselves with respect to China, Russia and even the United States,” he said in November 2018.

Faced with “a Russia which is at our borders and has shown that it can be a threat … we need a Europe which defends itself better alone, without just depending on the United States,” he argued at the time. “We will not protect Europeans until we decide to have a true European army.”

Mr Macron has since launched the European Intervention Initiative, a coalition which has so far brought together nine EU militaries ready to react to crises near Europe’s borders without Nato or Washington.

Brussels has also recently set up its own multibillion-euro defence plans to develop and deploy military assets together after years of crippling spending cuts.

The 27-member bloc has collectively pledged to vastly expand its defence budget starting in 2021, allocating some £11 billion (13 billion euros) over seven years to research and developing new equipment.