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France's seat on the United Nations Security Council could be put "at the disposal of the European Union" if its governments back Emmanuel Macron's plans for an EU army, a close ally of the French president has said.
Paris is spearheading a diplomatic push for closer EU military integration after Australia pulled out of a £45 billion contract for diesel-powered French submarines and signed the Aukus security pact with the US and UK instead.
A traditional standing EU army remains a distant prospect, but Mr Macron – on the cusp of becoming the EU's most influential leader as Angela Merkel prepares to bow out of politics after Sunday's German elections – is determined to lay its foundations.
Top European officials this month proposed the creation of a 5,000-strong rapid reaction force after America's decision to rapidly withdraw from Afghanistan caught the bloc short.
"I think that if we move on these things we can put on the table also the discussion on the Security Council," Sandro Gozi, a former Italian Europe minister now serving as an MEP for Mr Macron's party, told The Telegraph.
Maro Sefcovic, the deputy head of the European Commission, said on Tuesday that the EU would soon discuss ways of bolstering common defence.
His remarks came after Joe Biden, the US president, said America's withdrawal from Afghanistan marked an end to "relentless war" involving US forces at the opening of the UN General Assembly in New York.
Mr Biden, who has promised to call Mr Macron amid a diplomatic fall-out over the Aukus pact, on Tuesday celebrated the deal before a meeting with Scott Morrison, the Australian prime minister. He said America has "no closer or more reliable ally than Australia".
France is the only member state to have a permanent seat on the council after Brexit. The EU only has observer status. The UK, US, China and Russia have the other four permanent seats and veto rights on the body, charged with maintaining international peace.
French demands for influential countries such as Germany, Italy and Spain to boost their defence spending have in reply drawn demands from Berlin that Paris puts its UN seat to work for Brussels.
Angela Merkel and Olaf Scholz, the front-runner to succeed her as chancellor, have both put forward the request, which has always been rebuffed by Paris.
Mr Macron is understood to be willing to discuss sharing the UN seat if he can secure concessions that will allow the EU to speak with a single voice on foreign policy as well as steps towards common EU defence.
Asked about the prospect of handing over the Security Council seat to the EU, the Elysée said on Tuesday night: "No comment."
France and Germany want EU member states to be stripped of their effective veto on foreign policy, replacing the need for unanimity with a vote weighted by population. The move would hand Paris and Berlin even more influence and faces opposition from some member states.
Britain has long opposed the creation of a European military force, and MPs warned that sidelining the UK post-Brexit would only play into the hands of enemies of the West.
"The UK represents a quarter of Europe's entire military capability. It would be only helping our adversaries to exclude us from any discussion about advancing our continental defence posture," said Tobias Ellwood, the chairman of the defence select committee.
Bob Seely, a senior Tory MP, warned: "If the EU Army undermines NATO, or results in the separation of the US and Europe or produces a paper army, Europe will be committing the most enfeebling and dangerous act of self-harm since the rise of fascism in the 1930s."
Mr Seely added that while potential adversaries are "rearming, an EU Army will amount to European de-arming".
He added that France’s talk of using its UN seat felt "more about France needing to see and present itself as a great power through what it hopes is its domination of the EU".
"Considering the economic imbalance between France and Germany, I worry it is a little delusional – it certainly has proved to be so in the past," he said.
He called on France "to see the bigger picture".
‘A unique opportunity for him and for Europe’
But France takes on the six-month rotating presidency of the EU on Jan 1, handing it a pivotal role in intergovernmental negotiations. Mr Macron is to hold a joint summit on EU defence with the European Commission president during this period.
"This is a unique opportunity for him and for Europe," said Mr Gozi, who was handpicked by the French president to be one of the first transnational MEPs. Transnational MEPs represent the EU rather than countries and are a pet project of Mr Macron, who sees them as a way of bolstering EU democracy.
"We must be prepared to confirm our transatlantic alliance but also to become adult in terms of our security and take on our responsibility," Mr Gozi said. "Certainly Macron will push a lot. I would say this is probably his highest priority now."
There are plan for the EU to bolster common cyber defence and intelligence sharing and set up a joint situational awareness centre alongside the 5,000-strong force. The commission has said VAT could be waived on EU-made military equipment to hand French defence companies an advantage over their international rivals.
France and Italy have said the Aukus pact proves the EU has to build its "sovereign autonomy" and be less dependent on an unreliable US.
Talks began in earnest on building capacity and pooling defence after Donald Trump upbraided EU leaders, his Nato allies, for not spending enough on their militaries. But Mr Biden's foreign policy has fuelled discussions.
"I think that after Kabul, after Aukus, this was, I would say the natural conclusion, that we need to focus more on the strategic autonomy," Mr Sefcovic told reporters after a meeting of the EU's European affairs ministers in Brussels.
"Europeans shouldn't be the rejects of the strategy chosen by the United States," Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French foreign minister, said as he arrived in New York for the UN General Assembly on Monday. "We are in this new state of mind, which means the Europeans need to identify their own strategic issues and to have a discussion with the United States on this topic."
Charles Michel, the president of the European Commission and a close Macron ally, said that the affair had damaged US-EU relations at a point when they were rebuilding after Mr Trump's presidency.
"At least with Donald Trump it was very, very clear that he was not in favour of the European integration, that for him Europe doesn't matter, but it was clear," he told reporters. "With the new Joe Biden administration, America is back. What does it mean America is back? Is America back in America or somewhere else? We don't know."