Friday

18th Jan 2019

Interview

Don't play EU 'games' with military HQs

  • Binelli Mantelli (l) at a Nato meeting in 2015 (Photo: nato.int)

Europe should not play "political games" with military HQs the way it did with EU agencies if it is to have effective armed forces, Italy's former defence chief has said.

Admiral Luigi Binelli Mantelli, Italy's top military commander from 2013 to 2015, spoke to EUobserver on Tuesday (24 April), one day after Spain launched its bid to take over an EU anti-piracy mission, Operation Atalanta, from the UK.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • Spanish aircraft carrier, the Juan Carlos I, took part in Spain's Rota campaign launch on Monday (Photo: Contando Estrelas Follow)

The Atalanta HQ move is part of a wider Brexit reshuffle, which earlier saw France and the Netherlands scoop the EU banking and medicines agencies, respectively, from the UK amid fierce competition from other member states.

The naval move has also sparked rivalry, with Spain and Italy vying for the jewel in the crown of EU military missions.

But defence HQs should not be shared out like EU civilian agencies to make member states happy, Binelli Mantelli said.

"Military logic calls for a unified command for both ongoing EU operations, Sophia and Atalanta," he said, referring to Operation Sophia, the EU's anti-migrant smuggler mission, which has its HQ in Rome.

"There are, however, signs of political games in perfect incoherence with the tenets of that logic," he added.

The retired admiral spoke to EUobserver in his personal capacity and not on behalf of Italy.

He said France and Spain were lobbying the EU to move Atalanta to Rota, a military HQ in southern Spain, where the Spanish navy showed off its capabilities to EU diplomats in a drill on Monday.

"That would mean one of two things - either a duplication of efforts, Rota for Atalanta and Rome for Sophia, or somebody is already envisaging to also move the command of Sophia to Rota. Both cases would be complete nonsense," Binelli Mantelli said.

It would be "nonsense" in operational and strategic terms, he noted.

The trickiest part of EU military missions was "force generation", he said, referring to the process in which member states assigned assets to joint operations.

"It's a long-lasting and often difficult task to be carried out among EU navies and much more among the EU general defence staffs … a unified chain of command would ease this," the admiral said.

Italy was better placed strategically to host a unified EU naval HQ, he also said.

"The critical side for the European Union is the south, with the wider Mediterranean as the forefront of potential troubles … and Italy - it's not just me saying that, it's a fact - is at the core of the wider Mediterranean, exposed as no other EU country is to the main modern threats," he said.

"The last point is staffing … which is, of course, more expensive if HQs are doubled," he said.

Old continent

The Atalanta move, to be decided in May, comes amid a broader EU push for military integration, as Britain, one of its preeminent military powers, prepares to exit the bloc next year.

The EU aims to create rapid reaction forces to intervene in conflicts in north Africa and the Middle East as part of the reforms.

The best model would be to have "flexible" and "modular" EU naval units, which took a "proactive" approach to "prevent rising tensions and crises at their very inception, rather than working reactively in settling already sparked threats," Binelli Mantelli said.

But European thinking was stuck in the past, he warned.

"The long history of Cold War-type land-centric power still has a deep influence on member nations' strategic vision," he said.

"In this light, we see, all too often, deployments of land brigades as the preferred option for solving crises, even though they're not the best solution due to their heavy demands in terms of time and space," he said.

Britain's departure from the EU would make Europe's military even more "unbalanced", he added.

"Lots of infantry brigades. Lots of combat planes and coast guard-type naval vessels, but dramatic shortfalls in terms of aircraft carriers, amphibious forces, submarines, drones, satellites, military intelligence, and joint logistics", Binelli Mantelli said.

Emotions

Spain's rivalry with Italy on Atalanta has stirred emotion.

"What I don't like is that Rome said it should get command of Sophia for reasons A, B, C, and now it's saying Rota should not get Atalanta for the same reasons. It's double standards," a Spanish naval officer, speaking off the record, said in Rota on Monday at Spain's Atalanta campaign launch.

Recent EU advances on military integration have also stirred optimism.

The European Union Military Staff (EUMS), a branch of the EU foreign service, is to take command of non-combat EU military operations at a new HQ in Brussels in another initiative.

The EU was moving at "the speed of light" Esa Pulkkinen, a Finnish general who heads the EUMS, said also in Rota on Monday. "Yesterday's dream is today's reality," he said.

The Italian admiral was less sanguine, however.

"Frankly, I don't see any impressive progress in EU military integration in the face of Brexit," he told EUobserver.

"There's no sign of integrated force planning, the way we see, to a certain extent, in Nato. There's a proliferation of EU HQs at various levels of ambition, lack of political guidance on EU operations, and heavy, and sometimes unfair, competition between EU defence industries," he said.

"I also see a dangerous drift between Nato and EU military affairs in Brussels, with Nato ever more firmly in US and British hands," he added.

"Maybe I'm wrong, but It's A Long Way To Tipperary," Binelli Mantelli said, recalling a World War I-era song to joke about the EU's slow steps toward its military objectives.

Feature

Spain makes bid for EU naval HQ

Spanish special forces seized a boat from African 'pirates' as diplomats watched on Monday, in a drill marking Spain's bid to grab a top EU military mission from the UK.

Magazine

Decision day for EU agencies relocation race

EU ministers will decide on the future location of two London-based EU agencies on Monday. In this edition of EUobserver's Regions & Cities magazine, we take a closer look at some of the EU agencies.

Cyprus and Greece to create EU spy academy

EU ministers have agreed to create a new "intelligence school" and to jointly build new drones and attack helicopters, amid French and German calls for a future "EU army".

News in Brief

  1. EU trade commissioner asks for green light for US talks
  2. Slovakia's commissioner takes unpaid leave to run for presidency
  3. Minority elects Lofven as prime minister of Sweden
  4. Putin opposes EU prospects of Serbia and Kosovo
  5. Tsipras launches campaign to ratify Macedonia deal
  6. US-EU meeting in doubt after Trump cancels plane
  7. Germany and China to sign pact on finance cooperation
  8. Labour divided on second Brexit vote plan

Analysis

China's 2019 growth outlook

As China's growth seems to be slowing, some observers see the country amid what the New York Times called a "severe downturn". As they mistake China's secular deceleration with cyclical fluctuations, they miss the rapid increase in Chinese living standards.

Opinion

The Azov crisis will backfire

Vladimir Putin's nightmare of Petro Poroshenko's re-election will be even certain as Ukrainians rally around the flag. Next March's election is not just to elect a new president but also a commander-in-chief to deal with five more years of Putin.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General

Latest News

  1. Aachen treaty and Brexit endgame This WEEK
  2. Germany led way on EU human rights protection
  3. How to troll the European Parliament elections
  4. MEPs in Strasbourg: everywhere but the plenary
  5. Brexit delay 'reasonable', as May tries cross-party talks
  6. MEPs allow Draghi's membership of secretive bank group
  7. EU parliament backs Morocco deal despite row
  8. Barnier open to 'future relations' talks if UK red lines shift

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  2. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  3. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  5. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  6. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  8. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  10. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us