Sunday

20th Jan 2019

New HQ to take charge of EU military missions

  • Mogherini: "The political decision is finalised" (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

EU states have cleared the way for a new HQ to take charge of three military missions in a “couple of days”, as well as broader plans for joint defence.

The HQ will, in the words of 28 defence ministers adopted on Thursday (18 May), “assume responsibilities at the strategic level for the operational planning and conduct of the EU’s non-executive military missions” including “the three EU training missions deployed in Central African Republic, Mali, and Somalia”.

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  • EU training mission at work in Central African Republic (Photo: eeas.europa.eu)

Missions of a “non-executive” nature, in EU jargon, do not involve combat and cannot act independently of their host nations.

EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini said “the political decision is finalised” and that it would take “a couple of days” to have the new HQ “officially in place”.

An EU source said it was a matter of circulating and rubber-stamping the legal documents that would underpin the new entity.

They said the UK had, as of Monday, still objected to describing it in language that made it sound as though it was a military command structure or the nucleus of a future EU army, but that compromise wording, which will be published shortly, had now been agreed.

The HQ will be located in a building that already houses Mogherini's military staff in Brussels, and will take over command tasks previously handled out of separate locations in member states.

The EU defence ministers decided additionally on Thursday that deployment of EU “battlegroups” in the field would in future be paid for out of the EU budget and not by participating member states.

They also decided on a new legal framework for core groups of member states to create and command their own military projects under the EU flag in a mechanism called “permanent structured cooperation [Pesco]”.

Battlegroups are rapid reaction forces of about 1,000 soldiers put together by small coalitions of EU states and designed to stop crises in Africa and the Middle East.

Mogherini said that they had never seen action because of the funding issue and indicated that their new format would be ready by the ed of the year.

She also expected member states to put forward the first Pesco projects by the end of the year, adding that if EU countries were to pool their military budgets they would be the second-biggest military spenders in the world after the US.

“There is a huge potential if we are spending together and this is what Pesco was [always] about," she said.

EU leaders will also discuss defence integration at a summit in June, but Mogherini said there was no need for any further political discussion on the HQ, battlegroup, or Pesco issues.

The EU defence surge comes in the context of Russian revanchism and heightened instability in north Africa and the Middle East.

It also comes amid warnings that the US wants to spend less on European defence and amid the departure of the UK, the EU’s top military power, from the bloc in 2019.

With US president Donald Trump arriving in Brussels for a Nato summit next week, 19 EU countries led by France, Germany, Italy, and Spain agreed, prior to the defence ministers’ meeting in Brussels on Thursday, to create a joint defence procurement fund, or “Cooperative Financial Mechanism”.

Mogherini added on Thursday that the UK would be welcome to contribute assets to EU military missions in future but would not take part in decision-making after it left.

A British diplomat told EUobserver: "The UK remains fully and strongly committed to European defence and security."

"We believe that Nato and EU activity can and should be complementary and mutually reinforcing", the diplomat added.

The new French administration of Emmanuel Macron also showed that it was serious about EU military integration on Thursday via two appointments.

Macron picked Sylvie Goulard, an MEP and a europhile, to lead his “ministry of the armed forces”.

He also picked Jean-Yves Le Drian, the former defence minister, to lead a new hybrid ministry that brought together EU and foreign affairs for the first time.

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