Commissioner for Economy and Taxation Paolo Gentiloni spoke to CNBC about the need to develop the bloc on the geopolitical stage as the US and other Western allies step back.

“We are an economic superpower, but we cannot be completely absent in the geopolitical role,” he told CNBC’s Steve Sedgwick at the European House Ambrosetti Forum on Saturday.

Gentiloni called what he called the “terrible” end of the war in Afghanistan in recent weeks as an example of the US and others reducing their commitments on a global scale. His comments reinforce the argument that the EU should develop a common defense policy, which many see as the forerunner of a full EU army.

“I think we can coexist very well,” said Gentiloni when asked whether this would pose a threat to NATO, which includes some EU countries. The undermining of NATO is seen as one of the main reasons the EU has not created its own army, as is the different defense spending within the bloc.

“NATO was primarily born and shaped to deter Russia’s presence in Europe. These roles remain absolutely crucial. And personally, I am also a strong supporter of NATO,” said Gentiloni.

“What I want to say is that if the role of the European Union grows, if we have a good economic recovery, if we try to be at the forefront on climate change, and many other aspects of our ambitions, we cannot be completely irrelevant and silent about this geopolitical dynamic. “

French soldiers of the special forces guard on 17.

STR | AFP | Getty Images

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell went a step further this week, telling reporters in Slovenia that the bloc should set up a “first reaction force” of 5,000 troops to reduce its dependence on the US

Two EU battlegroups with 1,500 soldiers were set up as early as 2007, but they were never deployed.

“Sometimes there are events that catalyze history that create a breakthrough, and I think Afghanistan is one of those cases,” Borrell said, according to Reuters.

Chinese antagonism

When asked about the Chinese antagonism and whether the EU would try to fight the Asian superpower as a bloc in the future, Gentiloni said this could ultimately benefit the US

“There is economic cooperation [with China], Trade cooperation, but we are different systems. It is inevitable that the model of a different capitalism, a capitalism that is not linked to democracy and freedom, is an alternative to the European model, ”he said.

“And so emphatically we will be partners with [the] US in this type of confrontation, however [it’s] also in the interest of the USA, if this European partner is also geopolitically stronger and [has] more influence … We always refer to Europe as the silent superpower, Venus and Mars. OK, [the] Now is the time to give geopolitical power to Venus too. “

France’s Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire agreed at the same event that this development of a common defense policy could represent a new position for Europe.

“A new geopolitical approach is needed for Europe,” Le Maire told CNBC at a press conference.

He added that the EU must now become a third geopolitical superpower alongside China and the US.

“This is my deepest political belief … let’s open our eyes, we face political threats,” he said.

“We can no longer rely solely on the protection of the United States. That is obvious, so we have to be our own protection.”