Hollande invokes EU solidarity while avoiding political and legal pitfalls, writes Igor Merheim-Eyre

globaleurope, Igor Merheim-Eyre |

Hollande’s choice to invoke Article 42.7 of the Lisbon Treaty is unusual, not least because of the novelty in making use of the Article. The choice, however, is rather deliberate.

Firstly, President Hollande was no doubt presented with the possibility to invoke Article 222 of the Lisbon Treaty. This is the so-called ‘solidarity clause’ which, however, is rather vague in its aims while the extent to which it can harness ‘solidarity’ is yet to be tested. Nevertheless, the clause does stipulate that it should be used to assist the Member States in case of terrorist attacks or other man-made or natural disasters. In the wake of the Paris Attacks, this may seem fitting, although, it assumes providing humanitarian assistance to the state in question.

Secondly, Hollande declared quite clearly that France is in a state of war with the Islamic State. Such statement has implications and, therefore, makes Article 222 largely irrelevant. A declaration of war means that the French President is not interested in humanitarian assistance of any sort, but in self-defence through a military response to the expansion of ISIS. Further, Hollande is aware that invoking Article 5 on collective defence of the NATO Treaty alone is insufficient, largely because of the peculiar stance of the Turkish government, and its reluctance for a more direct involvement in the Syrian conflict. Consequently,

Thirdly, the nature of the Article is also important to consider. Article 222 largely follows a supranational mode of decision-making and gives the lead in ‘solidarity’ to EU institutions and, more specifically, to the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Humanitarian Aid & Civilian Protection. At the same time, it would require unanimous vote within the European Council to support France. Hollande, however, is neither interested in EU role or in unanimity. Instead, using Article 42.7, which is based on inter-governmental forms of cooperation, he is able to build a possible ‘coalition of the willing’ to join the fight against ISIS. Given the slow decision-making process in Brussels, this sort of approach gives an added sense of urgency to the situation, but also by-passing any opposing from Members of either the EU or, indeed, NATO. Thus, rather than risking the possibility for disagreement within the EU, France will rather seek to rally those Member States sympathetic to its aims.

France’s strategy, in some essence, is therefore clear: to build a coalition of states eager to see the end of the Islamic State. Thereon, however, the strategy becomes muddier: Would Hollande risk, excluding the various special forces already present, troops on the ground? This seems doubtful. Instead, it is likely that Hollande will push (as he already signalled) for a speedier diplomatic resolution of the war in Syria, while simply intensifying the bombing campaign against ISIS and providing greater support for the Kurdish Peshmerga forces (to the annoyance of NATO member Turkey). Invoking Article 42.7, therefore, largely has a political significance, not least in invoking solidarity while avoiding the political and legal pitfalls of international organisations.