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25th Mar 2017

EU joint defence to focus on south

  • The EU anti-smuggler operation, Sophia, is currently commanded out of Italy (Photo: raramuridesign)

EU missions should in future be commanded out of an EU military HQ with joint medical and logistical support, according to Franco-German proposals.

The two countries put forward their ideas in a six-page paper, seen by EUobserver, on Sunday (11 September).

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  • EU held up Mali operation as success story, but did not mention eastern crises (Photo: defense.gouv.fr)

They said the leap forward would amount to the creation of a real common security policy, “an instrument created by the Lisbon Treaty that has not been used until today”.

But EU countries who are wary of Russia might be disappointed by the paper’s focus on the EU’s southern neighbourhood.

France and Germany said that the creation of “a permanent HQ for the military and civilian missions and operations of the EU … [was] an objective for the medium-term”.

They said the EU should also have its own medical and logistical HQs, with “strategic” assets, such as air-lift capacity, and should have its own budget lines for military operations and R&D.

The paper recognised that its proposals could prove controversial at a time when EU states are wondering whether to react to Brexit with less or more integration.

It said the “political responsibility for defence lies in the first place with member states”, but that their initiative could create “greater efficiency”.

But it said that “taking into account the fact that the United Kingdom has decided to leave the European Union, we must henceforth act at 27” because “the credibility of the entire European Union” is at stake.

The paper added that a core group of EU states could launch the new security policy, and hinted that members of Eurocorps, an intergovernmental military club in Strasbourg that is composed of Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, and Poland, could be in the vanguard.

In one suggestion, it also declared the political intention to create “an authentically European esprit de corps” by joint training of military officers.

The paper spoke of other projects, such as making EU “tactical groups” ready to go into action, sharing military satellite imagery, and joint procurement of high-end technology, such as surveillance drones.

EU tactical groups, formerly called “battlegroups”, are put together by small sets of EU states. Their soldiers train together and are meant to be posted overseas if a crisis erupts, but have never been used, in part, because member states were never keen to foot the financial bill.

Southern focus

For countries such as the Baltic states and Poland, who see Russia as their main threat, the paper devoted its attention to crisis management missions in the EU’s southern neighbourhood, however.

France and Germany said they drafted it in the context of the recent Islamic State-linked terrorist attacks in Belgium, France, and Germany.

They spoke of military assistance to states in “key zones … where our common security is at stake”, but mentioned only the Mediterranean region and former French colonies in western and central Africa.

They gave as examples of model EU missions its operations in the sea near Libya and Somalia, in Mali and in Central African Republic, and they mentioned EU territorial integrity only in the context of military support for an EU coast guard and border guard force in order to help manage the migration crisis.

The paper did not mention Russia or Ukraine, which has been calling for EU peace monitors and military assistance for two years.

But Poland, on Monday, welcomed the draft.

Its EU affairs minister, Konrad Szymanski, said: “There’s a broad agreement that we should go forward on security and defence - the diving line being the shopping list”.

He added that EU defence coordination is not the same thing as an “EU army”, but he said that when the 27 EU leaders, minus the UK, meet in Bratislava on Friday, “I have no doubt that steps will be taken toward greater EU defence”.

Brexit opening

An EU source said the departure of the UK, which had opposed EU military integration, had created a “new situation”, but that “we are just at the beginning of the process” and that talks could go on for “years to come”.

The contact added that the Czech Republic, Italy, Finland, Hungary, and the Netherlands also supported the Franco-German ideas, while France was “definitely at the forefront” of the initiative.

But the source, who came from an EU state with a large defence industry, said some capitals might not like joint procurement for fear of losing their arms exports edge.

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The US has unveiled fresh details of its plan to create a Russia-deterrent force in eastern Europe, prompting Russia to warn of an “asymmetric response” and of a potential "crisis".

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UK to veto EU 'defence union'

Reacting to Bratislava talks, Britain has said it would veto the creation of EU military capabilities so long as it remained a member of Europe.

Italy lays out 'vision' of EU army

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