France demands EU support in Syria, Iraq and other missions

AP News
Posted: Nov 17, 2015 9:47 AM
France demands EU support in Syria, Iraq and other missions

BRUSSELS (AP) — France invoked a never-before-used European Union "mutual-defense clause" to demand Tuesday that its partners provide support for its operations against the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq and other security missions in the wake of the Paris attacks.

French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said all 27 of France's EU partners responded positively.

"Every country said: I am going to assist, I am going to help," he said.

Speaking at an EU defense ministers' meeting, Le Drian noted France's military burden in northern Africa, the Central African Republic and Lebanon, and the need to provide national security while a state of emergency is in place.

He said EU partners could help "either by taking part in France's operations in Syria or Iraq, or by easing the load or providing support for France in other operations."

Article 42.7 of the EU's Lisbon Treaty states that if a member country "is the victim of armed aggression on its territory," other members have "an obligation of aid and assistance by all the means in their power."

The clause is similar to, but less far-reaching than, NATO's Article 5, which designates an attack on one ally as an attack on them all, and was invoked by the U.S. after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001. It's the only time Article 5 has been used.

Nonetheless, the EU's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said Tuesday that "France has been attacked, so the whole of Europe has been attacked."

"We're in a new situation in Europe. This is Sept. 11 for Europe," Greek Defense Minister Panagiotis Kammenos told reporters Tuesday in Brussels.

Czech Republic Defense Minister Martin Stropnicky said he doesn't expect any French requests for troops.

"France is a big powerful country and it has its own capacities to cope with the situation, however serious it is," he said.

Britain, Finland and Sweden immediately said they stand ready to help.

France chose to take the EU route on security aid because the meeting had already been scheduled, meaning that it could move more quickly than through NATO, which only takes decisions unanimously.

Paris already has good backing in Syria and Iraq from NATO heavyweights of the U.S., Britain and Turkey and does not need support from smaller members.

"Paris traditionally doesn't turn to the alliance for these types of counterterrorism missions, and it's usually reluctant when other allies try to do it," said Jorge Benitez, senior fellow at the Washington-based Atlantic Council.

But he said he expects France to accept help from individual nations to "benefit from the interoperability and the relationship of NATO, even though the organization itself will not be involved."


John-Thor Dahlburg in Brussels contributed.