The European Parliament has voted in favour of plans which would cut through red tape and allow NATO forces to be deployed quicker in the event of a crisis and bolster defences against Russian aggression in eastern Europe.
A resolution which was debated in Strasbourg last night would also allow for the EU to ‘act where NATO is unwilling to do so’.
It was passed today with 369 votes in favour and 255 against, with 70 abstentions.
The debate in Strasbourg comes in the wake of Donald Trump’s election as US President and amid fears among European leaders that the President-Elect will reach an agreement with Vladimir Putin which could leave some EU countries vulnerable.
Trump has also said other Nato countries need to pay more for their own defence.
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A Finnish Army Scorpion armoured vehicle carries the EU flag on it during exercises on Salisbury Plain in Britain earlier this year. The EU Battle Group was formed in 2007 but has never been deployed
But Urmas Paet, the Estonian MEP who put together the resolution said it did not recommend an ‘EU Army’ and insisted it was not a ‘parallel structure’ to NATO.
He told Mail Online: ‘Trump is right. At the moment 75 percent of Nato expenses are paid by the US. It needs to be absolutely fair. Europe must do much more for its own defence.’
Putin is encouraging Russian nationalism and Soviet nostalgia
His draft resolution said: ‘The EU should tackle deteriorating security in and around Europe by helping its armed forces to work together better, as a first step in building a common defence policy.’
Mr Paet, whose country has a sizeable ethnic Russian minority, said Putin’s aggression stemmed from his desire to regain the influence in eastern Europe which the Soviet Union had up until the early 1990s.
He said: ‘Putin is encouraging Russian nationalism and Soviet nostalgia.’
Urmas Paet (pictured, left, greeting President Obama in Estonia in 2014) says Donald Trump is right when he says other countries need to stump up more money to support Nato
Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, is said to want to create a European ‘superpower’.
But Mr Paet said: ‘This is not about creating an EU Army. That is wrong. It’s impossible. It would need changes to the Lisbon Treaty. The idea of an EU Army is floated by those who don’t want any co-operation. It’s not a European Army. It’s about giving added value to NATO.’
The resolution recommends radically overhauling the EU’s Common Security and Defence policy to assert the EU’s ‘strategic autonomy’.
But a European Parliament spokesman pointed out: ‘The resolution stresses that NATO must continue to be the backbone of collective defence in Europe and that any defence union must be agreed to by all EU countries.’
Donald Trump (pictured) has pledged to cut spending on Nato and his isolationist approach to foreign policy has got many European leaders worried
He went on to say: ‘This is about pooling resources and joint defense procurement, rather than about setting up a European army.’
In a separate development MEPs want a joint defence research programme with an annual budget of 500 million euros (£420million), starting from 2021.
The EU Battle Group, or rapid reaction force, has been operational since 2007, but has never been used.
It could only be deployed with the unanimous agreement of all 28 EU member states.
A soldier of the European Union Force in the Central African Republic patrols a street in Bangui in 2014. Mr Paet said there were some occasions when it was better for soldiers to operate under a EU flag than under NATO
Mr Paet said there are occasions when armed forces might want to fly the EU flag, rather than the NATO standard. He pointed out recent French-led operations in the Central African Republic and Mali.
But his report was criticised by Sabine Lösing, from the Left-wing Die Linke party in Germany, and Takis Hadjigeorgiou, of Akel, the former communist party in Cyprus.
They argued the EU should not be allocating any of its budget towards defence spending.
A source in Strasbourg told Mail Online: ‘This agenda is being pushed by Poland and the Baltic states but the French and German governments are in the driving seat.
‘Britain, and especially the Tories, had always blocked EU co-operation on defence but now, with Brexit, that brake is going and they are pushing this forward.’
The President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker (pictured) said Mr Trump’s pledge to cut spending on Nato gave Europe no choice but to strengthen its commons security and defence structures
Earlier this month Mr Juncker said Mr Trump’s pledge to cut spending on Nato and his isolationist approach to foreign policy gives Europe no choice but to strengthen its commons security and defence structures.
Mr Juncker said: ‘The Americans, to whom we owe much … will not ensure the security of the Europeans in the long term. We have to do this ourselves.
‘That is why we need a new start in the field of European defence, up to the goal of setting up a European army.’
Between 2014 and 2015 a peacekeeping force in the Central African Republic – a former French colony – wore a badge (pictured) showing it was formed by the European Union