European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has called for closer military cooperation at EU level.

In a showpiece "state of the union" speech in the European Parliament Wednesday, he announced a new European Border and Coast Guard comprising 200 extra border guards and 50 extra vehicles deployed at the Bulgarian external borders from October.

The EU, he told MEPs in Strasbourg, will also propose before the end of the year a European Defence Fund, "to turbo boost research and innovation."

This would strengthen the European defence industry and help it to innovate, he said.

Europe, said the former Luxembourg prime minister, must also do more to defend itself against terrorism.

"Since the Madrid bombing of 2004, there have been more than 30 terrorist attacks in Europe – 14 in the last year alone. More than 600 innocent people died in cities like Paris, Brussels, Nice, or Ansbach," he said.

Over the last decade the EU engaged in more than 30 civilian and military EU missions from Africa to Afghanistan, he added.

"But without a permanent structure we cannot act effectively. Urgent operations are delayed. We have separate headquarters for parallel missions, even when they happen in the same country or city. It is time we had a single headquarters for these operations.

"We should also move towards common military assets, in some cases owned by the EU. And, of course, in full complementarity with NATO."

The Lisbon Treaty, said Juncker, enables  EU member states to pool their defense capabilities, if they choose to do so, in the form of a permanent structured cooperation.

"I think the time to make use of this possibility is now," he declared. "The business case is clear. The lack of cooperation in defence matters costs Europe between €25 billion and €100 billion per year, depending on the areas concerned. We could use that money for so much more."

His speech was criticized by some MEPs, including Geoffrey Van Orden, UK Conservative Defence spokesman, who commented: "We should be under no illusions – the ayatollahs of European integration see Britain's departure from the EU as their great opportunity. We will no longer be there to put a brake on their ambitions. This is particularly true of defense where France, in particular, has long sought to lead an EU army that excludes American influence from Europe.

"This is very dangerous in today's challenging world. An EU army has no credibility with our potential enemies."

Juncker's address represents the Commission's contribution to the informal meeting of the 27 Heads of State or Government, which takes place on Friday in Bratislava.

Martin Banks covered the European Union, NATO and affairs in Belgium for Defense News.

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