European Union’s two powerful members, France and Germany, led a debate on Monday in which the bloc agreed to a new defence plan that could see it sending rapid response forces abroad for the first time.
The meeting was held in the backdrop of statements by US President-elect Donald Trump who, during his election campaign, threatened to abandon US allies in Europe if they do not spend enough on defence, appearing to question almost 70 years of US military support that have been a cornerstone of American foreign policy.
The European defence plan envisages relatively modest moves including increasing joint European spending on military missions, developing assets such as helicopters and drones and expanding peace-keeping operations abroad.
"Europe needs to be able to act for its own security," French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told reporters at the special session of the EU's 56 foreign and defence ministers in Brussels.
"This will allow Europe to take a step towards its strategic autonomy," said Le Drian, who has led the EU efforts along with Germany and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, using EU code language for greater independence of Washington.
Council conclusions on EU-wide strategic framework to support Security Sector Reform: https://t.co/MN3zDgRW2u
— EU Council Press (@EUCouncilPress) November 14, 2016
The plan does not envisage formation of a European army, though Mogherini said there was support from governments on using so-called EU battle groups of 1,500 personnel, which have been operational since 2007 but never used.
Currently, the EU has 17 military and civilian missions underway - many of them well out of the classic European theatre, from the Democratic Republic of Congo to the central Mediterranean where it is seeking to stem migrant flows from Libya and uphold a UN arms embargo.
European planners were at pains to stress the plan will not duplicate or rival the work of NATO.
British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, whose country historically became the first member to vote to leave the bloc in a referendum in June, bluntly told the EU to stop "dreaming."
"Instead of planning expensive new headquarters or dreaming of a European army, what Europe needs to do now is to spend more on its own defence, that is the best possible approach to the Trump Presidency," Fallon said.
The election of a Russia-friendly political novice as president in Bulgaria - a member of both the EU and NATO – has given further impetus to French and German efforts to improve common defence operations.
On Sunday, Moldova also elected a pro-Russian president who interpreted the results that voters had "united and voted for friendship with Russia, for neutrality."