BERLIN — Britain's decision to quit the European Union offers the bloc an opportunity to press ahead with greater military cooperation of the kind that London has long resisted, Germany's defense minister said Wednesday.
Ursula von der Leyen, a close ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel, said Germany and France plan to discuss deepening military ties with other members of the EU, saying such efforts would be easier following Britain's referendum last month to leave.
"Britain consistently blocked everything that had Europe written on it," von der Leyen told reporters at the presentation of a major defense policy paper in Berlin, citing the example of a mobile hospital some countries had wanted to deploy to crisis regions.
"European Medical Command, even that would have been impossible because (of the word) 'European,'" she said.
Germany already operates joint military units with France and the Netherlands on a bilateral basis.
Von der Leyen said closer military ties between member states could help ease the frustration that many voters feel about the EU's inability to tackle major issues.
In its first defense policy review since 2006, the government said citizens of other EU countries could be allowed to serve in the German army.
Von der Leyen rejected suggestions that Berlin was pushing its own military agenda. She stressed that Germany had learned the lessons of the 20th century and would only act as a part of an alliance of nations.
Greater security and military cooperation was possible under existing EU agreements, said von der Leyen. "The good news is we don't need to change any treaties."
Merkel has emphasized other priorities for closer EU cooperation, including promoting economic growth and border protection.