U.S. urges EU to abandon ‘poison pill’ defense rules

AFP BRUSSELS (AFP-Jiji) — The United States has sent a stern warning to the European Union that its plans to boost defense cooperation within the bloc could unravel decades of transatlantic cooperation and damage NATO.

A May 1 letter from two of U.S. President Donald Trump’s top defense officials, obtained by AFP, is the latest sign of deep misgivings in Washington about the EU’s push to make its military spending more coherent.

The letter to EU diplomatic and security chief Federica Mogherini says “poison pills” embedded in proposed rules would shut third country allies such as the United States out of European projects.

And a cover letter accompanying the warning, from U.S. Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland and also obtained by AFP, demands a rapid response from Mogherini and warns of reciprocal U.S. sanctions.

“I would appreciate your response by June 10, 2019,” Sondland wrote, in language European officials saw as undiplomatic. “I hope we can avoid contemplating similar courses of action,” he warned.

Mogherini told reporters the EU was preparing a “clear and complete reply” to the letter and insisted the EU would remain open to American defense manufacturers.

“The EU is actually at the moment much more open than the U.S. procurement market is for the European Union companies and equipment,” she told reporters.

“In the EU there is no ‘buy European’ act and around 81 percent of international contracts go to the U.S. firms in Europe today.”

The concerns focus on the European Defense Fund (EDF), a seven-year €13 billion ($14.6 billion) pot approved by the European Parliament last month, and the EU defense cooperation pact known as PESCO.

“The draft EDF regulation and PESCO general conditions represent a dramatic reversal of the last three decades of increased integration of the transatlantic defense sector,” the letter to Mogherini says.

The proposed rules “would not only damage the constructive NATO-EU relationship we have built together over the past several years but could potentially turn the clock back to the sometimes divisive discussions about EU defense initiatives that dominated our exchanges 15 years ago,” the letter warns.

Along with the warnings, the U.S. officials also make a veiled threat to hit back, saying the EU would object to similar U.S. restrictions “and we would not relish having to consider them in the future.”

EU countries launched PESCO in late 2017 to try to harmonize a highly fragmented approach to defense spending.

Under the pact, countries cooperate on projects to develop new military equipment such as fighter planes and drones, and on support systems such as military hospitals and training centers.

The U.S. letter chimes with bitter divisions within the bloc on what rules to set for non-EU allies such as the United States, Norway — and Britain after Brexit — who want to contribute to projects.

A group led by France wants to set tough rules, arguing the aim is to improve cooperation within Europe and achieve “strategic autonomy” — ending the historic reliance on the United States to guarantee the continent’s security.

A rival grouping led by the Netherlands and Sweden favors a more inclusive approach, arguing that Europe should not shut out longstanding allies with strong defense expertise, like the United States.

Washington argues that shutting out third countries by making the rules too tough will ultimately lead to more money being wasted and make it harder to ensure European and U.S. military systems can operate together in NATO.

European defense officials say there is some misunderstanding of their plans in Washington, insisting that close cooperation with NATO is in place to ensure projects dovetail with the alliance’s priorities.Speech

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