22nd Feb 2019

MEPs say EU anti-pirate mission is 'military nonsense'

  • The Wednesday hearing: NAVCO officials faced strong opposition from MEPs (Photo: EUobserver)

The EU naval mission to be deployed against pirates off the coasts of Somalia is a "military nonsense," "morally wrong" and has "no international legal basis," several MEPs said at a hearing in Brussels on Wednesday (15 November), as delegates from the EU council and the bloc's military co-ordination cell defended the project.

If approved by member states in November, the EU's first naval mission will consist of five or six ships from different EU countries under the command of UK vice-admiral Philip Jones and with headquarters in Northwood, Great Britain, Mrs Claude-France Arnould from the EU council - the secretariat of EU top diplomat Javier Solana - told MEPs.

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Russia is also in "military talks" to offer help, but with no political decision reached yet, captain Andres Breijo Claur, the head of the EU's "NAVCO" co-ordination cell, said. NAVCO was set up in order to co-ordinate the different existing naval forces in the waters off the Somali coast, including NATO and US led counter-terrorism task forces.

Since January this year, heavily armed pirates operating in the region where Somalia's northeastern tip meets the Indian Ocean have carried out 71 attacks on ships and still hold 11 ships for ransom. The maritime route is of strategic importance not only to food aid for African countries, but also because it leads to the Suez Canal through which an estimated 30 percent of the world's oil transits.

NATO members at an informal meeting last week in Budapest agreed to despatch immediately a joint fleet of NATO ships to escort UN vessels delivering food in the area.

Under fire from several MEPs who said the EU is needlessly duplicating NATO efforts, the council's Mrs Arnould said NATO has not actually deployed any ships yet, with individual efforts from countries like Canada, Denmark and the Netherlands now and then escorting UN ships for the time being.

Calling the planned EU mission "military nonsense" and a "desperate attempt" by the French EU presidency "to run up the EU flag on another military operation during its time in office," British Conservative MEP Geoffrey van Orden said.

"It is a pity that the British government has agreed to an EU naval operation at the same time that NATO will be engaged in the same waters. Not only does this introduce unnecessary complexity and political confusion but it stretches our meagre naval assets even further. Bear in mind that in the last 10 years the destroyer and frigate fleet of the Royal Navy has been reduced from 35 to 25," he told EUobserver.

Greek MEP Giorgos Dimitrakopoulos from the EPP-ED group criticized the set up of a "global armada," while German green MEP Angelika Beer underlined the lack of international law to sustain the proposed European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP) mission.

"There is no clarity to the limitations of this mandate. Will the EU be able to sink ships and arrest pirates?" she asked.

Portuguese socialist MEP Ana Maria Gomes gave a fiery speech on the "moral problem" of the EU mission, which, in her opinion, is only about "protecting oil tankers."

"Nobody gives a damn about the people in Somalia who die like flies," she said.

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