Monday

29th May 2017

UK blocks blueprint for EU military HQ

  • Johnson (r): "You know, we’re not going to stand in their way" (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

The UK has blocked legal preparations for an EU military headquarters in the run-up to Brexit and national elections.

Boris Johnson, its foreign minister, took the step at a meeting in Brussels on Monday (15 May) citing disagreements over “language”.

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  • Mogherini said she gave same "clear" message to UK defence minister Michael Fallon by phone (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

“There’s a discussion still going on about some of the language there”, he said. “If they want to come together [on joint defence plans] … then, you know, we’re not going to stand in their way. We’re just working on some of the language to make sure that we get it totally right”.

The new HQ is to be an office inside the EU foreign service in Brussels that would take charge of EU military training missions, such as the ones in Mali or Somalia, which are currently run out of command centres in member states.

The other 27 EU members had wanted to adopt a legal mandate for it on Monday which described it as an “operational” body, but the UK has said that would be a step too far toward the creation of an EU army that would duplicate Nato.

Michael Roth, Germany’s EU affairs minister, said after listening to Johnson that he did not hear “a relevant argument” against going ahead.

He also noted that the UK had already agreed, in March, to create the HQ. “The decision has already been taken in principle”, he said, according to Germany’s DPA news agency.

Federica Mogherini, the EU foreign policy chief, said she hoped the HQ could still be put in place by the end of June.

Echoing Roth, she said she told Johnson “very clearly” that it was the UK’s “responsibility” to allow the plan to go ahead after having agreed to it in March.

“If you take a political decision then it’s your responsibility to allow this to become reality”, she said.

Diplomats linked Johnson’s decision to Brexit and to the upcoming British election on 8 June in which his Conservative Party is trying to win votes by being “bloody difficult” with the EU.

"It is unfortunate that essential European security and defence projects have become hostage to domestic political moves," one EU diplomat told the Reuters news agency.

Another one said: “If this issue is to be delayed until after the British elections in June and then approved, well OK”.

But Polish foreign minister Witold Waszczykowski warned that events in the wider world “won’t wait until we agree with the UK on our divorce terms”.

EU defence ministers will return to the topic in greater detail in Brussels on Thursday.

The joint defence plans include a €500-million-a-year fund for research into drones and cyber defence technology.

The fund is to be paid out of the EU budget, with the European Commission to unveil details in June.

The plans also include joint arms procurement and making EU “battlegroups” more ready to intervene in conflicts in Africa and the Middle East.

“A European army is not a project for the near future”, Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker told Salzburger Nachrichten, an Austrian newspaper, on Saturday.

“It is, however, a project that would give additional weight to the European foreign and security policy. Even though the road may still be long, we could already focus our strengths better”, he said.

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