ROME (Reuters): The European Union should form its combined army that could play a role in peacekeeping and preventing conflict, Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said.

In an interview with the Italian newspaper La Stampa, Tajani said that closer European cooperation on defence was a priority for the Forza Italia party that he leads.

“If we want to be peacekeepers in the world, we need a European military. And this is a fundamental precondition to be able to have an effective European foreign policy,” he said in an interview published on Sunday.

“In a world with powerful players like the United States, China, India, and Russia – with crises from the Middle East to the Indo-Pacific – Italian, German, French and Slovenian citizens can only be protected by something that already exists, namely the European Union,” he added.

European defence cooperation has risen up the political agenda since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine almost two years ago.

However, efforts have been more focused on NATO expansion, with EU nation Finland joining the alliance last year and Sweden also on track to become a member.

Tajani also said the 27-nation EU should streamline its leadership and have a single presidency, rather than the current structure of a European Council president and a European Commission president.

The foreign minister became leader of Forza Italia following the death of Silvio Berlusconi last year.

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