Afghanistan a wake-up call for Europe on defence, leadership - France

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FILE PHOTO: French Finance Minister Le Maire meets business federations over crisis support measures in Paris
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CERNOBBIO, Italy (Reuters) - The challenges to security emerging from the upheaval in Afghanistan should be a wake-up call for the European Union, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said on Saturday, urging the EU to be more ambitious on defence and on global leadership.

"Europe has to become No. 3 super-power besides China and the United States. Let's open our eyes, we are facing threats and we cannot rely anymore on the protection of the United States," Le Maire told reporters during an annual business conference in Cernobbio on Lake Como.

"Afghanistan is a wake-up call," he said, adding Europe also faced security threats in the Middle East and in Africa.

The French minister said Paris had decided to invest 1.7 billion euros ($2.02 billion) more in defence this year and would like to see other European countries to do the same.

The minister also called other EU member states to invest and to deepen their single market to achieve technological independence from big overseas companies and third countries.

"EU member states have to build the single market for finance and also they need to reach a political agreement on the banking union, in order to have more funds for new technologies," Le Maire said.

He added that France will work toward these goals when it takes the rotating presidency of the EU Council, in the first half of 2022.

"You cannot be sovereign on the political point of view if you depend from foreigners for semiconductors, electric batteries, satellites..." he said, echoing similar comments from Italy's Innovation Minister Vittorio Colao, who was also in Cernobbio.

Europe should invest to win the leadership in sectors including hydrogen, the digital cloud, artificial intelligence, semiconductors, space exploration, satellites and bio-technologies, Le Maire said.

($1 = 0.8416 euros)

(Reporting by Francesca Landini; Editing by Frances Kerry)

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