Thursday

24th May 2018

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.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • 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.

Sofia summit: EU leaders search for a Trump strategy

"With friends like that, who needs enemies?" European Council Donald Tusk asked on Wednesday, as EU leaders were trying to come up with a reply to the US president's questioning of the transatlantic relationship.

Devil in detail in Macedonia name talks

Unlocking Macedonia talks could be this year's big breakthrough in EU enlargement, but the devil's in the detail of Macedonia's constitution, as Macedonian prime minister Zoran Zaev and Greek PM Alexis Tsipras meet in Sofia.

Analysis

EU has no 'magic bullet' against US Iran sanctions

EU leaders in Sofia will discuss how they can protect the bloc's economic interests against US threats to sanction companies doing business in Iran. But their options are limited.

Opinion

Ratifying CETA after 'Achmea scandal' is anti-European

While few people in Europe have heard of the 'Achmea' ruling, the case will have far-reaching consequences. Member states must understand the implications of the case quickly - especially those considering ratifying the EU-Canada trade agreement.

News in Brief

  1. Gazprom accepts EU conditions on gas supplies
  2. Facebook tells MEPs: non-users are not profiled
  3. Commission proposes ending France deficit procedure
  4. UK households hit with Brexit income loss
  5. Report: EU faces 10% cut in steel exports to US
  6. Australia wants more access to EU agricultural market
  7. CV of Italian PM candidate under scrutiny
  8. Puigdemont Spain extradition rejected by German court

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  2. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and reconciliation is a process that takes decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  3. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up
  4. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  5. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersIncome Inequality Increasing in Nordic Countries
  7. European Jewish CongressEU Leaders to Cease Contact with Mahmoud Abbas Until He Apologizes for Antisemitic Comments
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual Report celebrates organization’s tenth anniversary
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Cooperation Needed on Green Exports and Funding
  10. Mission of China to the EUPremier Li Confirms China Will Continue to Open Up
  11. European Jewish CongressCalls on Brussels University to Revoke Decision to Honour Ken Loach
  12. Sustainable Energy Week 2018"Lead the Clean Energy Transition"- Register and Join Us in Brussels from 5 to 7 May

Latest News

  1. GDPR does not (yet) give right to global oblivion
  2. Privacy Shield less relevant given GDPR, says data chief
  3. Unknown academic to lead Italy into EU clash
  4. 'Killer robot' projects eligible for EU defence fund
  5. Funding for European values needs radical changes
  6. Feeble EU format deflates Zuckerberg 'hearing'
  7. Are EU data watchdogs staffed for GDPR?
  8. EU pessimistic on permanent US trade exemption

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EU Green Week 2018Green Cities for a Greener Future. Join the Debate in Brussels from 22 to 24 May
  2. Nordic Council of Ministers12 Recommendations for Nordic Leadership on Climate and Environment
  3. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOxford Professor Calls for an End to the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  4. ACCAPeople Who Speak-Up Should Feel Safe to Do So
  5. Mission of China to the EUProgress on China-EU Cooperation
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersWorld's Energy Ministers to Meet in Oresund in May to Discuss Green Energy
  7. ILGA EuropeParabéns! Portugal Votes to Respect the Rights of Trans and Intersex People
  8. Mission of China to the EUJobs, Energy, Steel: Government Work Report Sets China's Targets
  9. European Jewish CongressKantor Center Annual Report on Antisemitism Worldwide - The Year the Mask Came Off
  10. UNICEFCalls for the Protection of Children in the Gaza Strip
  11. Mission of China to the EUForeign Minister Wang Yi Highlights Importance of China-EU Relations
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersImmigration and Integration in the Nordic Region - Getting the Facts Straight