A mature debate on defence is needed

The EU was built as a peace project and that is how it should remain but having a robust defence mechanism does not contradict that mission

Labour MEP candidate Clint Azzopardi Flores fired off an absurd comparison last week between European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and what he described as ‘Germany’s thirst to arm itself in the 1930s’. 

He carefully avoided mentioning the Nazis, although everyone knows who was in charge in Germany during that period. Any right-thinking person can understand that the comparison Azzopardi Flores made was akin to equating Von der Leyen with the warmongering Nazis. 

Azzopardi Flores has been one of the EP election candidates who has refreshingly engaged in a critical way with EU issues and might very well provide some valid contributions if elected an MEP. 

He is also entitled to his stance against Von der Leyen’s push for a more militarised EU that includes defence and security as a priority over the next five years. 

But in putting forward his views he should refrain from making absurd village bar comparisons that brand all Germans as nostalgic Nazis thirsting for military might. 

A healthy debate needs to be had on the EU’s defence capabilities in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Vladimir Putin’s expansionist ideas. 

The situation will only get more complicated if Donald Trump gets elected president of the US in November. Europeans will have to increasingly be self-reliant for defence and security measures with a Trump presidency. This is a reality that even socialists with whom Azzopardi Flores will be hobnobbing in Brussels recognise. 

The EU was built as a peace project and that is how it should remain but having a robust defence mechanism does not contradict that mission. The EU must work for peace but at the same time be prepared to fend off any acts of aggression against the physical and virtual territory of its member states. 

Within this complex patchwork, Malta must not play the isolationist card but rather have its Armed Forces better integrated into the EU’s defence and security mechanisms. 

Ignoring Putin’s threat will not make it go away. And while the risk of a physical attack on Malta is virtually none, there is no guarantee the country will not be subjected to damaging cyber-attacks or threats to its economic wellbeing such as the disruption to shipping in the Red Sea as a result of Houthi attacks. 

At the same time, just as Malta should expect other member states to come to its assistance if need be, it should also be in a position to assist, in whatever limited way it can, other member states that may fall victim to acts of aggression. 

Malta can be the interlocutor for diplomacy and peace - it can do much more on an international level - but this does not exclude the country from being part of an EU project to bolster the defence capabilities of individual member states within a common framework. 

The debate should focus on how to achieve EU defence and security cohesion through better cooperation, interoperability, joint procurement and intelligence sharing, with full respect to the individual member states’ sensitivities, rather than whether this is needed or not. 

But in any case, even politicians like Azzopardi Flores, who disagree with a stronger emphasis on defence within the EU, should steer away from spurious inferences to Nazism.