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The French-German Military Cooperation and the Revival of European Defence After Brexit: Between Reality and Political Myth


This chapter investigates the limits and potentialities opened by Brexit for the relaunch of the CSDP by looking at how new French-German initiatives have been put on the European agenda and are Europeanised. The chapter relies on the concept of strategic culture to show that even if these initiatives are numerous and tend to bring CSDP forward, the political contingent environment persists. If the retreat of the UK opened new possibilities to deepen European defence and make it evolve in the direction of a more important European strategic autonomy, it will not lift all the obstacles encountered by CSDP in the last decade. Methodologically, the chapter applies path dependence and content analysis, a comparative research design and data from official strategic communication and expert interviews.


  • French-German motor
  • CSDP
  • Strategic culture
  • Strategic autonomy
  • Brexit

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  1. 1.

    European Council Meeting, Conclusions, Brussels, 15 December 2016, p. 3.

  2. 2.

    A half a dozen informal interviews conducted by the author during several expert meetings in Paris, Berlin and Bonn in Fall 2016 and Spring and Fall 2017.

  3. 3. Accessed 13 September 2018.

  4. 4.

    Both heads of state and government made large use of the practice of common letters sent to the other European partners so as to insufflate the reflection on a European foreign and defence policy in 1990–1991. They were particularly three letters before the European Council in Dublin (April 1990), in November 1990 and in October 1991. This last letter opened the way to the creation of the Eurocorps.

  5. 5.

    Yet Saint-Malo agreement doesn’t mean a total turnaround on the British side: Tony Blair claimed on May, 10th 1999 in the Financial Times that NATO remained the cornerstone of any defence capacity and there was no question of a European army.

  6. 6.

    At the time of this writing, the Brexit is due to be effective from 29 March 2019 if negotiations between London and Brussels come to a successful conclusion and if no other referendum is organised in the UK, as Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party leaders seem to wish after the failure of the UK-EU negotiations at the Salzburg summit in September 2018. The transition period is currently planned to last until the end of 2020, with the possibility of extension.

  7. 7.

    For example, the series of projects led by the Institut français des relations internationales (IFRI) in France and Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP) in Germany, in which the author of this chapter also participated. These series concretised through the publication of a common document: Kunz B., Kempin R. (eds), France, Germany, and the Quest for European Strategic Autonomy: Franco-German Defence Cooperation in A New Era, Notes du Cerfa, No. 141, Ifri, December 2017.

  8. 8. Accessed on 24 September 2018.

  9. 9.

    NATO (2016). Joint declaration by the President of the European Council, the President of the European Commission, and the Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Press Release 119. 08 July 2016. Accessed on 24 September 2018.

  10. 10.

    See for instance his address on the state of the Union on 14 September 2016: “Towards a better Europe—a Europe that protects, empowers and defends”, European Commission—Speech. Accessed on 24 September 2018.

  11. 11.

    Council conclusions on progress in implementing the EU Global Strategy in the area of Security and Defence. Accessed on 24 September 2018.

  12. 12.

    EU defence cooperation: Council establishes a Military Planning and Conduct Capability (MPCC). Accessed on 24 September 2018.

  13. 13.

    European Council conclusions on security and defence, 22/06/2017. Accessed on 24 September 2018.

  14. 14.


  15. 15. Accessed on 24 September 2018.

  16. 16.

    The Chiefs of Staff of both countries signed a common file on the expression of their needs (High level command operations requirements document—HLCORD) on 26 April 2018 and the project has also been agreed at the industrial level by Dassault (who will assume the leadership of the project) and Airbus. A study period should start by the end of 2018 to go further with the concretisation of the project.

  17. 17.

    This proposal has been formulated by the European Commission on 30 November 2016 in the European Defence Action Plan. See Haroche (2018) for more details.

  18. 18. Accessed on 29 August 2018. The European Parliament approved the EDF on 04 June 2018, so this Fund could be launched in 2019.

  19. 19.

    The EDF should be funded by the EU budget up to 90 million euros per year until 2019 and up to 500 million euros a year from 2020 on. This sum would be additional with the co-financing of innovative project with the EU member states up to a global budget of 5.5 billion euros per year from 2020 onwards. The European Defence Fund: Questions and Answers. Brussels, 7 June 2017. Accessed on 24 September 2018.

  20. 20.

    Delphine Deschaux-Beaume, “Le couple franco-allemand dans la Politique Européenne de Sécurité et de Défense: mythes et réalités”, in Allemagne d’aujourd’hui, Premier trimestre 2010, pp. 50–60.

  21. 21.

    See for instance the White Paper on German Security Policy and the Future of the Bundeswehr published in July 2016 or the French Strategic Review published in October 2017: even if European defence constitutes a fundamental aspect of both strategic documents, the analysis of the strategic priorities tends to differ significantly.

  22. 22.

    The notion of path dependency has been developed by Douglass North (1990) and invested in a historical institutionalist perspective by Paul Pierson (2000) in policy analysis. Path dependency means that once a government adopted a set of given solutions in a public policy area, these solutions tend to generate increasing returns making it difficult to radically change the path thereby created. The concept helps understanding of how historical paths weigh on today’s public policies.

  23. 23.

    Germany experienced an interesting evolution though by taking part in a training mission among the Peshmergas in Iraq and leading anti-ISIS activities outside the established organisations of collective security (EU, NATO, UN) that German usually operates within (Kempin 2017).

  24. 24.

    See Federal Foreign Office: New Compact for the EU’s civilian crisis management, 21.11.2018, and European Council: Civilian Common Security and Defence Policy: EU strengthens its capacities to act, 19.11.2018, Accessed 27 November 2018.

  25. 25.

    Jana Puglierin, “Frau Merkel Means What Frau Merkel Says”, in Globe and Mail, Toronto, 31 May 2017. Accessed 22 June 2018.

  26. 26.

    Conférence de presse de M. François Hollande, Président de la République, sur l’OTAN, à Varsovie le 9 juillet 2016. République Français, Direction de l’information légale et administrative. Accessed 27 November 2018.

  27. 27.

    This EII takes place outside the framework of CSDP and aims at being able to quickly carry out a military operation, evacuation in a country at war or provide assistance in case of disaster. The idea is to have a small number of committed states (8 states signed the initiative in Luxembourg) able to act more rapidly than within the constraining framework of CSDP based on the principle of unanimity as CSDP remains an intergovernmental policy until now.

  28. 28.

    Interviews with French and German experts and politico-military actors in Berlin (December 2016 and August 2017) and Paris (March 2017).

  29. 29.

    Angela Merkel even announced her future resignation as CDU leader and her will to quit her position as German Chancellor at the end of her current mandate in fall 2021 after the last regional elections in Bavaria in October 2018.

  30. 30.

    The report can be consulted here: Deutscher Bundestag, Drucksache 19/700, 19. Wahlperiode, 20.02.2018: Unterrichtung durch den Wehrbeauftragten, Jahresbericht 2017 (59. Bericht) Accessed on 17 May 2018.

  31. 31.

    An expanded defence cooperation agreement will also be signed between Germany and Norway, including procurement plans for submarines and missiles, as well as joint training, logistics and maintenance efforts. There should also be declarations of intent for joint training and deployments of land forces with the Czech Republic and Romania.

  32. 32.

    On minilateralism, see Alice Pannier, “Le « minilatéralisme »: une nouvelle forme de coopération de défense”, Politique étrangère Spring 1, 2015, pp. 37–48.

  33. 33.

    See Robin Emmott, “Germany and France are reviving military cooperation- but there are still no plans for an EU army”, Reuters, 3 June 2016.


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Deschaux-Dutard, D. (2019). The French-German Military Cooperation and the Revival of European Defence After Brexit: Between Reality and Political Myth. In: Baciu, CA., Doyle, J. (eds) Peace, Security and Defence Cooperation in Post-Brexit Europe. Springer, Cham.

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