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23rd Sep 2017

EU considers military response in Africa on Ebola crisis

  • International medical staff at Ebola clinic in Monrovia, Liberia (Photo: un.org)

EU institutions are analysing potential evacuation of EU citizens from Ebola-hit African states and military operations to restore security in the outbreak zone.

The EU foreign service, in an internal paper discussed by EU countries’ ambassadors in Brussels on Thursday (9 October) - and seen by EUobserver - said: “The EU and MS [member states] have not yet designed an operational strategy making the best of all our collective assets”.

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It speaks of the “unprecedented nature of the crisis".

But it notes the EU response to the "pandemic" so far has “obvious limitations” due to “inadequate operational [and] financing frameworks”.

It adds that EU institutions already put forward options for “a co-ordinated EU mechanism” to evacuate infected health workers and for a “strategic airlift mechanism” for humanitarian aid, but it says member states’ “responses did not fully meet expectations”.

The foreign service’s military staff has also carried out a “Strategic Military Estimate”.

The estimate considers: “possible military responses from the most basic scenario of co-ordinating scarce assets in support of emergency response operators to the most complex and degraded scenarios, including evacuation of EU citizens or the conduct of military operations to contribute to maintaining/restoring safe and secure environment in a given area”.

For the time being, the US is taking the lead on action in Liberia, while France and the UK are spearheading the response in their former colonial domains, Guinea and Sierra Leone, respectively.

But the EU diplomatic corps wants member states to task it with drafting “a highly visible European response, mirroring the high profile assistance package implemented by the US”.

It notes the “more exhaustive ‘EU comprehensive response framework’ … [and] proposals for decisions on specific new initiatives” could be tabled in time for an EU foreign ministers’ meeting in Luxembourg on 20 October and the EU summit in Brussels three days later.

But Thursday's paper also put forward a set of "preliminary considerations" for collective action based on the EU's talks with the UN.

The 10 options include: EU “support” for infected medical workers; strategic airlift capacities for an international logistics hub in Accra, Ghana; transport helicopters; air traffic control measures; sealift capacities; laboratories; and “other critical supplies (generators, vehicles, ambulances)”.

It adds that there is a need for new “command and control arrangements” on the joint EU effort.

The EU ambassadors also heard an oral presentation from Claus Sorensen, the head of the European Commission’s humanitarian aid department.

One contact present at Thursday’s meeting said the Ebola threat will top the foreign ministers’ agenda, trumping even the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and the Ukraine crisis.

“It’s an issue that is coming to the fore partly due to the case [of an infected nurse] in Spain”, a second EU source told this website.

The nurse was on Friday described as being in a "stable" condition, AP reports.

But she is the first person to contract the virus in Europe, after helping a Spanish priest who was infected in Africa and who later died in a Madrid hospital.

A third EU contact said Ebola is already “an agenda item” for the summit later this month. But he added that climate change and energy security are still the “key topics”.

“Let’s see how the situation develops”, he added.

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