Wednesday

20th Jun 2018

Medical HQ to spearhead EU military push

  • EU leaders plan to celebrate the new push for EU defence integration at a ceremony on the sidelines of a summit in Brussels on Thursday (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

The first joint project designed to make the EU into a "credible" military power is to bear fruit by the end of next year.

The so-called "European Medical Command", with its HQ in Brussels, is to create "a multinational medical task force with a rapidly deployable capability for basic primary care" and to "provide evacuation facilities" for soldiers on EU military missions overseas.

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  • Mogherini said that the 'possibilities are immense' in terms of future EU defence cooperation (Photo: eeas.europa.eu)

A senior EU official said on Tuesday (12 December) that "by the end of 2018, we should be able to provide something with regard to the European Medical Command".

He said that "by mid-2018" the EU would also complete "implementation studies" for two more initiatives.

The first was a "Strategic Command and Control System" to help EU missions coordinate intelligence and surveillance. The other was a "Crisis Response Operation Core" to coordinate airlift and sealift for quicker troop deployment.

The three projects were among 17 agreed by EU states this week in what EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini called the "buildings blocks of a Europe of security and defence" in remarks to MEPs in Strasbourg on Tuesday.

"There's a need for the European Union as a force for peace … for the EU to be a credible power in the international arena, a rational, calm one", she said.

The European Parliament, which backs the development, went further in a report voted the same day, by calling for the creation of a new "directorate general - defence" in the European Commission.

Leaders also plan to celebrate the EU defence push at a ceremony on the sidelines of a summit in Brussels on Thursday.

They aim to say, according to a draft declaration seen by EUobserver, that the EU "welcomes the establishment" of the new military structure and "stresses the importance of quickly implementing the first batch" of projects.

Franco-German motor

France and Germany led the push to show people that the EU was alive and kicking despite Brexit and in reaction to the ever-worsening security conditions in the EU neighbourhood.

Twenty five EU countries are to take part, leaving out the UK, Denmark, and Malta.

Germany, France, and Italy will take the lead in most of the 17 projects. Greece, Spain, and the Netherlands will also play a major role, while Belgium, Lithuania, and Slovakia will lead one project each.

Other initiatives include the development of a new armoured vehicle and artillery targeting technology, as well as the Lithuanian-led creation of "Cyber Rapid Response Teams" to counter cyber assaults against EU states.

The largest of the projects, led by the Dutch, but involving 21 other states, is to create the legal and physical infrastructure, including railways and roads, to enable troops to mass quickly on Europe's borders if needed.

Participating states can be kicked out of the EU military club if they do not fulfil promises on time.

The EU official said the first review would take place in 2020, but not that no one would risk being excluded until after a second review in 2025.

"Member states have signed up to this and we have all the reasons to trust that they will fulfil the commitments. So, see you in 2025," the official said.

US pressure

He added that "the Americans will [also] make a lot of pressure in the direction of the Europeans" to keep them to their word.

He said the UK, the bloc's top military force, would be able to join under special conditions for non-EU participants to be detailed "sometime next year".

At least one of the projects, the French-led creation of a secure radio system, was already in the pipeline for a long time, but the EU official said the initiatives on the list-of-17 would now be able to benefit from EU budget grants.

"It's about incentives. It's about money which may come from the commission," he said.

The joint projects are part of wider efforts that include a €5.5 billion EU defence fund and a single HQ, in Brussels, for EU military training missions.

Mogherini, who has cautioned against calling the developments an "EU army", said on Tuesday that the projects were "very practical programmes" to "fill some gaps in our capabilities".

Fairy tale

She noted that the "possibilities are immense" in terms of future EU defence cooperation.

"It's historic. It's big, but the work has just begun," she said.

Mogherini added that she could "never have imagined", at the start of her mandate three years ago, that the EU would take such steps.

The commission head, Jean-Claude Juncker, voiced similar feelings on Monday, likening the defence push to a fairy tale come true for EU integration.

"It was necessary to awaken the 'Sleeping Beauty' of the Lisbon Treaty," he said, referring to the EU legal text, back in 2010, that paved the way for the military initiative.

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