Defence cooperation between Estonia and France has grown remarkably in recent years. The two countries cooperate closely both bilaterally and multilaterally. Bilateral cooperation is based on the intergovernmental defence cooperation agreement that was signed between Estonia and France in 2011. Multilateral cooperation mostly takes place within the scope of the European Union and NATO. The main areas of cooperation are international operations and cyber defence. It also involves regular security policy consultations.
At the NATO Summit held in Warsaw in 2016, France announced that it was going to participate in NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) on the Eastern flank of NATO. France participated in eFP in Estonia in 2017 and 2019 in cooperation with the United Kingdom and has returned to Estonian eFP battlegroup in March 2021 for one year.
France is one of the most important contributors to NATO Baltic Air Policing mission. France has participated in Baltic Air Policing since 2007 and in 2018, French Air Force did its rotation for the first time from the Ämari air base in Estonia. In 2020, it was the second time when French air force unit came to Ämari to serve in the BAP mission.
In previous decades, France has participated in many projects aimed at assisting the Baltic States in the area of defence, such as BALTSEA and BALTRON, and supported French language training in the Estonian Defence Forces. France has also provided the Estonian Defence Forces with equipment and there have been successful military procurements between the two countries. Regarding the defence industrial projects with French participation, iMUGS (integrated Modular Unmanned Ground System) project led by Estonia, aimed at developing the European standard unmanned ground system and financed in the framework of European Defence Industrial Development Programme is one of the most important ones.
A very important part of cooperation between Estonia and France has taken place in the framework of operations. Between 2011 and 2013, the Estonian vessel protection team served on several French vessels that served as part of the European Union Naval Force Operation ATALANTA. Cooperation within EU missions strengthened in 2014 when the Estonian unit of approximately 50 soldiers served as part of EUFOR RCA in Bangui, the Central African Republic. After the terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2015, France requested for help in military missions by invoking the Article 42.7 of the Treaty of the EU. Estonia backed the request by increasing its involvement in the EUTM mission in Mali.
The main contact between Estonia and France in the framework of operations has been in Mali. From the second half of 2018, Estonia is participating with an infantry platoon in operation Barkhane in Mali, led by France. The Estonian contingent of 49 troops is contributing primarily with force protection. Since summer of 2020 Estonia was the first country to support France with operation Takuba in Mali.
It serves under the command of Barkhane and advises, assists, and accompanies Malian Armed Forces, in coordination with G5-Sahel partners and other international actors on the ground with a goal of tackling the terrorist groups. Furthermore, Estonia contributes in Mali also to the UN peacekeeping mission (MINUSMA) and to the the European Union Training Mission (EUTM).
The fact that Estonia was the only country among the Central and Eastern European countries that was invited to join the European Intervention Initiative (EI2) in 2018 shows how good the bilateral defence cooperation is between Estonia and France. France and Estonia cooperate in various EI2 working groups, and strive to build a common strategic culture.
Bilateral cyber cooperation between the two countries is very close. It is based on the technical cooperation agreement for cyber security, signed in 2016, in order to strengthen cooperation in the area of cyber. France has entered into similar agreements with just three countries – the U.S., the UK and Estonia. In addition to this, a framework agreement for mutual cooperation was entered into in 2018 between the Estonian Defence Industry Association and the Pôle d’excellence cyber (based in Bretagne, France), to increase cooperation between research institutions and small companies.