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23rd Feb 2019

EU ready for more military operations, Solana says

Europe says it is ready for more military action under the EU flag in 2007 after its "success" in Congo last year, with the German EU presidency putting Kosovo, Bosnia, Lebanon and Afghanistan at the top of its defence agenda for the next six months.

"We begin 2007 ready to take up our responsibilities if needed - which I sincerely hope won't be the case - but we are in a position of readiness," EU top diplomat Javier Solana said in Brussels on Wednesday (17 January), after recalling that the EU's "battle group" structure reached "full operational capacity" on 1 January.

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  • The EU and the national (German) insignia on show in Congo last year (Photo: EUFOR RD Congo)

The EU now has two units that can be deployed for "crisis-management" anywhere in the world 10 days after member states take a unanimous vote, in a decision that would "as a rule" follow a UN security council resolution but that could also see the EU go it alone.

Each group brings together 1,500 soldiers from two or three member states, which hold joint training exercises and wear both national and EU insignia - a blue disk with 12 gold stars - on the model of EU police missions in Bosnia and Macedonia.

"Europe can assume very important peacekeeping and peacemaking functions in this world," German defence minister Franz Josef Jung said, while standing next to Mr Solana. "Europe is a great peace project and we will continue to make our contribution [to global stability]."

EU army by stealth?

No EU battle group has ever been tested in a real operation, but last year saw two major EU military projects: member states coordinated sending 9,000 European peacekeepers under a UN flag to Lebanon and dispatched 1,400 soldiers under an EU flag to Congo.

"Now we really have the beginning of a European army," French general Christian Damay said in Kinshasa in December, with France, Germany, Spain, Italy and Poland broadly supporting a gradual move toward a permanently standing EU force that could number several thousands of soldiers.

Other states, such as the UK and the Netherlands, are more worried about trespassing on NATO turf however, with no high-profile discussion of the concept taking place at EU level for now. "An EU 'army' is a very big word, but [any army] would be something very small," an EU official told EUobserver.

The notion of an EU army is a red rag to eurosceptic parties in Europe, but some pro-integration politicians such as British liberal MEP Graham Watson also believe the trend toward ever-closer practical defence co-operation should be subject to open discussion on political implications.

"I don't think governments can go on building a European army by stealth - we need a proper public debate," Mr Watson stated, adding that more and more policies are "being done in the council [the EU member states' secretariat] and reported after the fact."

Kosovo to dominate 2007 agenda

Apart from building-up battle group capacity, the German EU presidency will focus on managing the "EU-dominated" force in Lebanon and exploring ways for EU police to support NATO in Afghanistan.

A gradual pull-out of the EU police mission from Bosnia is also on the agenda - but a new EU police force will replace NATO soldiers in Kosovo after the region's final status is settled, Germany's Mr Jung said.

The EU is currently preparing what is expected to be the biggest-ever security operation in its history in Kosovo, involving policing but also institution-building, due to start this summer at the earliest.

Brussels is currently awaiting the result of Serbian elections on Sunday before UN envoy Marti Ahtisaari presents a proposal for the final status of the territory in February.

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