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Mutual defence clause: what the requirement to help out other member states means

Infographic explaining mutual defence clause
Infographic explaining mutual defence clause

The mutual defence clause, requiring EU countries to help a member state under attack, was invoked for the first time by France in November in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris. This has raised many questions about the procedure to follow and the EU's role in it. MEPs discuss this on 20 January and vote on а resolution the following day. Check out our infographic and learn more about the legal basis and its implications.

The legal basis

The clause was introduced in 2009 under Article 42 (7) of the Treaty of the European Union. It says that EU countries are obliged to assist a fellow member state that has become “a victim of armed aggression on its territory” and that this support should be consistent with potential NATO commitments.

No formal procedure has been set out and the article does not say that the assistance should be military in nature, so countries such as Austria, Finland, Ireland and Sweden that have a policy of neutrality, can still cooperate.

What form of assistance?

Since the request for assistance was made on 17 November 2015, France has been holding bilateral talks with member states to see what kind of aid is available. Some countries have expressed a willingness to join operations against terrorists in Syria and Iraq, others are ready to increase their presence on other international missions, thus allowing French troops to be transferred elsewhere.

The EU's role

The role of the EU is limited as the exact type of assistance required is being agreed directly between states. Nevertheless, it could help to facilitate and coordinate the process.

In a resolution adopted in November 2012, MEPs invited the EU’s foreign policy chief to propose practical arrangements and guidelines with regard to the mutual defence clause. During this week's plenary session MEPs will debate whether a stronger EU involvement is needed.

The plenary debate on the mutual defence clause will take place on Wednesday evening and MEPs vote on a resolution on Thursday shortly after noon CET.

Watch the debate live on 20 January (late evening)
EP resolution on the mutual defence clause
Treaty of the European Union
Steps of the procedure