Paris attacks: Will EU fight along with France?

President François Hollande has mentioned Lisbon Treaty article 42.7 an obligation of aid and assistance by all the means in their power to any member that is the victim of armed aggression. Many observers think it is quite unusual. How do you read this, to what kind of EU response could it lead? Read few comments.

Igor Merheim-Eyre, PhD Candidate in International Relations, School of Politics and International Relations, University of Kent

Hollande’s choice to invoke Article 42.7 of the Lisbon Treaty is unusual, not least because of the novelty in making use of the Article. The choice, however, is rather deliberate.

Firstly, President Hollande was no doubt presented with the possibility to invoke Article 222 of the Lisbon Treaty. This is the so-called ‘solidarity clause’ which, however, is rather vague in its aims while the extent to which it can harness ‘solidarity’ is yet to be tested. Nevertheless, the clause does stipulate that it should be used to assist the Member States in case of terrorist attacks or other man-made or natural disasters. In the wake of the Paris Attacks, this may seem fitting, although, it assumes providing humanitarian assistance to the state in question.

Secondly, Hollande declared quite clearly that France is in a state of war with the Islamic State. Such statement has implications and, therefore, makes Article 222 largely irrelevant. A declaration of war means that the French President is not interested in humanitarian assistance of any sort, but in self-defence through a military response to the expansion of ISIS. Further, Hollande is aware that invoking Article 5 on collective defence of the NATO Treaty alone is insufficient, largely because of the peculiar stance of the Turkish government, and its reluctance for a more direct involvement in the Syrian conflict. Consequently,

Thirdly, the nature of the Article is also important to consider. Article 222 largely follows a supranational mode of decision-making and gives the lead in ‘solidarity’ to EU institutions and, more specifically, to the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Humanitarian Aid & Civilian Protection. At the same time, it would require unanimous vote within the European Council to support France. Hollande, however, is neither interested in EU role or in unanimity. Instead, using Article 42.7, which is based on inter-governmental forms of cooperation, he is able to build a possible ‘coalition of the willing’ to join the fight against ISIS. Given the slow decision-making process in Brussels, this sort of approach gives an added sense of urgency to the situation, but also by-passing any opposing from Members of either the EU or, indeed, NATO. Thus, rather than risking the possibility for disagreement within the EU, France will rather seek to rally those Member States sympathetic to its aims.

France’s strategy, in some essence, is therefore clear: to build a coalition of states eager to see the end of the Islamic State. Thereon, however, the strategy becomes muddier: Would Hollande risk, excluding the various special forces already present, troops on the ground? This seems doubtful. Instead, it is likely that Hollande will push (as he already signalled) for a speedier diplomatic resolution of the war in Syria, while simply intensifying the bombing campaign against ISIS and providing greater support for the Kurdish Peshmerga forces (to the annoyance of NATO member Turkey). Invoking Article 42.7, therefore, largely has a political significance, not least in invoking solidarity while avoiding the pitfalls of international organisations.

Manuel Muñiz, DPhil in International Relations Candidate, Oxford University

That clause was inserted into the treaties after the 11M Madrid bombings. It was a Spanish initiative. It is unclear what it entails as it has never formally been acted upon. In essence it sort of resembles a NATO Article 5 commitment specific to terrorism (the EU treaties have other articles that are much more like Article 5 in that they are broader and refer to any armed aggression). I believe that what France is doing is attempting to a) set a preceden of this solidarout clause being called upon b) preparing other EU partners for a joint reaction (again, possibly new counterterrorism measures, and even security action abroad through CFSP/CSDP).

Martin Michelot, Head of Research, Europeum Institute for European Policy

They are many imaginable reasons why France did not make use of Article 5, and instead used Art 42.7. First and foremost, this is an illustration of the fact that the France is expecting increased solidarity from its European partners, rather than from the US which Hollande singled out in his address yesterday for quality cooperation over the French strikes of Raqqa. Second of all, invoking Article 5 would have had a few setbacks: putting France in a position of weakness towards the US, whose military capabilities are needed to carry out maximal effects; it would also have led to difficult discussions with Turkey over potentially diverging objectives. Finally, France is traditionally reluctant to privilege NATO, a historical fact that often tilts the balance towards the EU. Therefore, invoking 42.7 gives France a wider range of possibilities to act in Syria & Iraq against Daech, while also putting pressure on its European partners, and them only, to increase their solidarity.

Sven Biscop, Director of the Europe in the World Programme, Egmont – Royal Institute for International Relations in Brussels

It would be a very symbolic step to invoke this article for the first time, demonstrating once and for all that the EU is not just a market, but a political union, whose members are bound by a Mutual defence guarantee.

In practical terms, it will not mean much in a military sense, for operations against IS are of course ongoing since 2014. But it can have operational consequences, and create a precedent for the future, in terms of police and especially intelligence cooperation.



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