I am sharing time with Deputy Wallace, soon to be a Member of the European Parliament. I fully support a very strong Army, Navy and Air Force defending our country and taking part in UN operations, which Óglaigh na hÉireann has done with great distinction over the past number of decades. Like colleagues, I was worried when I read about the Franco-German treaty, which seems to be built on mutual defence and where even the term a “real European army” was used. It was not only President Trump who used that term. All of the other European countries seem to be expected to operate under the mutual defence clause.
There is also the situation in NATO. The Minister of State will know about Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg’s new rapid response formula and which will mean 30 combat ships, 30 land battalions, and 30 air squadrons being available within 30 days. There are NATO battle groups in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. How do we disentangle this EU approach from NATO’s?
How would this interact with the European intervention initiative, EI2, of ten countries headed by France and Germany, which seems to be a rapid reaction force running what they call the EU navy? Will this not just be a subset of that? As Deputy Brendan Ryan said, battle groups have existed since 2007 but there are grave concerns that we could be involved in actions up to 6,000 km from home in north Africa, the Middle East and so on. That would not be in the interests of our country and not remotely befitting our long tradition of neutrality. We should look to the broader world and strengthen the UN. The organisation is exasperatingly weak when it comes to international crises.