Vaccine row: European Union warned about contracts by Wallace

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The European Council President spoke amid worries about Europe’s ability to defend itself as America increasingly moves its focus towards China. This was only increased after the West’s calamitous withdrawal from Afghanistan in August.

Speaking at the annual Charlemagne Prize event – which celebrates European Unity – the top Eurocrat said: “We want less dependency.

“We want more influence, because we have values to promote — they are strong as we just said — interests to defend, and citizens to protect.

“Our greater autonomy must be based on two strategic pillars — social economic development and security. The first pillar is economic and social.

“The second pillar is that of our security.

“The Atlantic Alliance (NATO) is its backbone. Strengthening Defensive Europe means strengthening the Alliance.

“Stronger allies make stronger alliances. 2022 therefore will be the year of European defence.”

Moving on to domestic issues, he also directly addressed the deep and historic divisions among EU member countries over “strategic autonomy”.

He added: “We know that strategic autonomy, this expression can have various connotations, can also sometimes be the subject of misunderstandings, incomprehensions, perhaps even suspicions.

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“Those in favour of greater European strategic autonomy suspect that sometimes those who seem more reluctant want to slow down integration.

“And others see in greater empowerment the risk of weakening our Atlantic Alliance.”

The annual prize is awarded for work done in the service of European unification

This year’s recipient was Romanian President Klaus Iohannis.

Mr Michel spoke as the bloc’s 27 EU leaders are due to discuss European defense and security over dinner Tuesday at a summit in Slovenia.

Last month it emerged that French President Emmanuel Macron was spearheading plans for a “European Defence Union” of closer military integration in the wake of the submarine row with Australia and the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.

A close ally of the French President has suggested his push for an EU army could result in a serious discussion about the bloc’s representation on the Security Council.

Sandro Gozi, an MEP for Mr Macron’s party, said: “I think that if we move on these things we can put on the table also the discussion on the Security Council.”

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