Saturday

22nd Jul 2017

Solana defends EU military planning hub

As the new EU military operations centre conducts its first exercise with a virtual deployment of 2,000 European soldiers, the bloc's foreign policy chief Javier Solana played down criticism that the new body duplicates the role of NATO's headquarters.

"It's a question of a good and serious division of labour, which is necessary with the number of crises we are trying to handle," Mr Solana told journalists on Wednesday (14 June), AP reported.

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He rejected the suggestion that the centre - set up earlier this year in Brussels to enable the bloc to plan and run an autonomous operation at the military strategic level - could be seen as competition undermining links with the North Atlantic pact.

Such criticism has been recently voiced by UK conservative MEP Geoffrey Van Orden MEP, who argued that the military operations centre is a revival of the idea of a separate EU operational planning staff proposed by four states (France, Belgium, Germany and Luxembourg) in 2003 and rejected by the UK.

"The reasons to oppose such a move [in 2003] were clear - the EU would be duplicating vital functions at the very heart of NATO, would weaken enthusiasm for NATO-led operations, and ultimately would displace the role of NATO's military planners," Mr van Orden said.

The British deputy added that originally a small EU operational staff based at NATO has now turned into "the full works" in the form of the new body, with "the fig leaf that the EU is merely helping NATO and has only limited defence ambitions" increasingly exposed.

But the argument has been rejected by the NATO chief himself, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. At the security and defence agenda conference in Brussels last week, he said he thought the EU's operations centre was a good idea and had nothing against it, AP writes.

Virtual exercise

The virtual training exercise taking place between 7 and 15 June is the EU's second military exercise within the framework of its security and defence policy but for the first time, its operational centre - consisting of military and civilian officials - has been activated.

It is based on a scenario in a fictitious country (Alisia), where a clash between a government and a rebel group hampers the distribution of humanitarian aid to camps of internally displaced persons, with a UN mission cut off from people in need.

The EU is asked to run an operation bridging the time needed for the UN to reorganise its personnel which requires the deployment of a force up to 2,000 people, including military staff.

The exercise is being conducted by the EU's military operations centre in Brussels and in another EU building in Enkoping, Sweden.

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