European Union states should pool military resources as a way of reviving the European project following Britain's shock decision to leave the bloc, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in a Thursday interview.
Common defence projects were nixed by France in the 1950s, out of national sovereignty concerns. Since then, little progress was made on the issue, partly due to Britain's reluctance and concerns that a hypothetical EU army could undermine NATO.
"The time has come now for laying the groundwork for a common defence," Mogherini told Italian newspaper La Repubblica. "I think this is one of the great projects through which we can restart the [EU] integration process," she added.
Noting that Britain was not alone in opposing deeper EU military cooperation, the former Italian foreign minister said that once London exits the EU, other covertly sceptical capitals would no longer have a "comfortable alibi" to hinder progress.
Mogherini laid out a four-point plan that she was going to present at an EU summit in Bratislava on September 16. All EU leaders except Britain's Theresa May are due to take part to discuss a post-Brexit future for the bloc.
First, the EU should agree that its existing multinational battle groups, ready for combat since 2007 but never engaged in active conflicts, should actually be deployed in crisis zones, Mogherini proposed.
Her plan also foresees: allowing selected EU states to conduct military operations on behalf of the whole bloc; setting up EU military headquarters in Brussels; and launching EU-level defence procurement initiatives.
EU foreign ministers were briefed last week in Bratislava, the Financial Times newspaper reported separately. It said Poland and Slovakia "privately questioned the initiative" and "neutral EU countries, such as Austria and Ireland, also have reservations."
The EU defence plan was also expected to feature in European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker's annual State of the Union speech to the European Parliament on Wednesday, the Financial Times reported.