According to a new foreign policy document from the Brussels-based institution to be handed to EU leaders next week, a “credible European defence” is also essential to preserve good relations with the US.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini’s Global Strategy document states that “as Europeans we must take greater responsibility for our security”.
The white paper, seen by Politico, adds: “While NATO exists to defend its members — most of which are European — from external attack, Europeans must be better equipped, trained and organised to contribute decisively to such collective efforts, as well as to act autonomously if and when necessary.
“A more credible European defence is essential also for the sake of a healthy transatlantic partnership with the United States.”
While it stresses that “NATO remains the primary framework for most member states”, it goes on to urge EU members to “channel a sufficient level of expenditure to defence”.
The document will be seized on by Eurosceptics as proof of a plot to set up an EU army – a notion that has been widely dismissed by diplomats in Brussels and London.
The warning of a European army was at the core of the Brexit campaign and became a hot topic with both sides trading blows over the truth of claims Brussels wanted to create a NATO-style organisation.
America subsidises European defence by vastly outspending all other NATO members and the EU believes a stronger continental force would take the pressure off the Pentagon.
But while the latest EU policy document calls for joint working on matters of defence, it stops short of explicitly calling for the creation of an EU army, which would require treaty change.
The head of the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs, Elmar Brok, has also argued for “more cooperation in the European defence policy”.
Downing Street had previously stated there was “no prospect of an EU army”.
However, with Britain out of Europe it will not be able to veto a treaty change on the combined force.