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EU tells France: we'll help in war against Isis

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French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian with German counterpart Ursula van der Leyen in Brussels on Tuesday. Photo: Thierry Charlier/AFP
10:54 CET+01:00
UPDATED: European defence ministers have unanimously backed a French request for help in defeating Isis, following Friday's Paris terror attacks.

European foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini announced on Tuesday morning that ministers had agreed to support France, which has intensified bombing raids against the terror group's stronghold in Syria and Iraq.

"Today the EU, through the voices of all the member states, unanimously expressed its strongest full support and readiness to give the assistance needed," she said during a press conference in Brussels with French defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.
 
"France will be in contact bilaterally in coming hours and days to express the support it requires and the EU will ensure the greatest effectiveness in our common response," former Italian foreign minister Mogherini added.
 
The French minister said the EU's support was a "political act of great significance".
 
It was not immediately clear exactly what form this support would take. Before the meeting, Germany's foreign minister Ursula von der Leyen said: "It goes without saying that we will do everything in our power to provide help and support."
 
"We will listen very exactly to what France has to say and also analyse carefully what France is asking for," she added.
 
However, Rainer Arnold, defence spokesman for the Social Democrats, partners in Germany's coalition government, signalled that the support would be mostly "symbolic and political" rather than "concrete".
 
Arnold told The Local it was unlikely that German fighter aircraft or ground troops would be sent overseas. 
 
Arnold said Germany might send more military aid to northern Iraq, where troops from the Bundeswehr (German army) are training Kurdish Peshmerga fighters to use German-made weapons in the fight against Isis.
 
"We must have understanding for France as a society in mourning, but react sensibly," he said.
 
In Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron has so far failed to win parliamentary support for the RAF to take part in strikes against Isis in Syria, although it is currently attacking targets in Iraq. However, he upped pressure on his own Conservative MPs on Monday night, using a speech to promise £2 billion (€2.8 billion) in extra military spending, focused on defeating Isis. 
 
Sweden's Interior Minister Anders Ygeman confirmed to Swedish news agency TT that his country backed the plea for help, but said that what Sweden would offer might depend on the exact nature of France's request.
 
Italy's Prime Minister Matteo Renzi was clear on the limits of his country's support when quizzed on the subject on Monday. Asked whether or not Italian forces would be used to engage Isis targets in Syria, Renzi again reiterated his reluctance to start a bombing campaign.
 
Until now, Italian forces have been present in Syria as part of a Nato coalition but have not been involved in bombing campaigns against Isis targets.
 

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Denmark, meanwhile, will not formally be part of the mission due to its EU defence opt-out, but Danish politicians have already begun debating an extension of the nation’s participation in the US-led coalition’s aerial campaign against Isis to include flying missions over Syria.
 
Speaking on Monday after the resolution was adopted, French defence minister le Drian said it would "allow us in the hours to come to have bilateral talks where necessary" with other EU states to establish what aid France needed.
 
This aid could either be in support of France's Syria airstrikes but also in other theatres, he said, adding that France "can't be everywhere at the same time."
 
"I felt a lot of emotion from my colleagues" over the Paris attacks claimed by Isis which left 129 people dead, he said, noting many of his counterparts had addressed him personally in French to pay their respects.
 
Le Drian invoked article 42-7 in the EU treaties that provides for the solidarity of member states in the event of an attack on one of them.

His appeal came after Friday's bloodshed in Paris – the worst ever terror attacks on French soil.

It is the first time that a European Union member state has invoked the article, which is similar to Nato's article five which the United States activated after the September 11th, 2001 attacks and triggered the alliance's intervention in Afghanistan.

Jacob Westberg, Senior Lecturer in Security Policy and Strategy at the Swedish National Defence College said: "The article is relatively clear and says that states must contribute by all available means. Hollande is trying this track and it will be interesting to see how other countries respond."

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