At a meeting in the coastal city of St.Malo in 1998, the two most important military powers in Europe agreed to develop a “capacity for autonomous action” for the EU. With the common statement, Britain de facto broke a 50 years of virtual veto in European defence matters. Clearly, Britain changed her position, but what about France? French ESDP policy is the theme of this thesis.
I have a two-fold empirical and theoretical approach where a central notion is change. The main story of French ESDP policy, of preferences and strategies, is described empirically. On preferences, I claim France changed from a focus on real autonomy to autonomy light. Importantly, France made compromises with Britain, with the St.Malo declaration and again, most notably, in 2003. These negotiations resulted in the weakening of the French preference of autonomy. On strategies, when analysing the period as a whole, I allege a gradual shift from what I have called Eurocorps avant-garde to UK-directory. The first denotes defence cooperation with a core group of integration friendly countries; the Eurocorps countries, with Germany at the forefront. The latter describes enhanced importance of the bilateralism with the UK. At the same time, there has been some empirical evidence of the forming of a directory of France, Germany and Britain in defence policy.
The two theories used here differ when coming to the likelihood of change and consequently explaining French ESDP policy. Liberal intergovernmentalism (LI) and historical institutionalism (HI) form two narratives which could help us understanding French ESDP policy. On one hand, LI contributes well in describing the larger states’ influence, here France, in ESDP matters. Yet, the changes identified in preferences and strategies are harder to explain. On the other hand, HI makes a valuable theoretical concept in arguing for the locked-in effect. France had to adjust her self-interest to better suit Britain. Still, the HI predicted a feed-back effect from the whole EU-system. My empirical findings do not support this. Rather, the analysis points to the UK-directory having a locked-in effect. A combination of LI and HI is tempting; the notion of larger state influence from the LI approach and the idea of a locked in effect from the HI. These factors are important in understanding the development of French ESDP policy.