1st Dec 2023

Ministers call for accelerating European defense

The ministers of defense of EU countries call for accelerating the setting up of the operational structures of the Common European Defense Policy to enable the European Union to play its role in the global fight against terrorism. After a two-day informal meeting in Brussels, the ministers of defense of the 15 drew conclusions from the present international crisis and the new terrorist threats for Europe. They will forward their conclusions to the ministers of foreign affairs of the EU, and some of the points might be taken up by the EU leaders at the Ghent Summit, on October 19.

The 15 defense ministers tasked the EU High Representative for Foreign Policy Javier Solana to study the possibility of reinforcing the exchange of information between the military intelligence services of the 15 and also between the military and civilian intelligence services, in a bid to improve the Union's anti-terrorist capacity. Mr Solana will report to the minister of defense at their next meeting on November 19.

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The defense ministers concluded that it was not necessary to modify the plans for a Common European Defense Policy in the light of the events of September 11, but it was important to accelerate its implementation and to improve the efficiency of defense spending. For the Belgian defence minister André Flahaut it is not only important to invest more in defense, but it is of utmost importance to invest better, in order to avoid the current duplication between the armies of EU countries.

The 15 ministers also pledged to organize further meetings of military and civilian officials in charge with health, which is increasingly becoming a preoccupation. The Belgian minister of defense André Flahaut told that they touched upon the question of a bio-terrorist attack and tasked their officials in ministries to gather and exchange information on this potential threat.

60 000 soldiers by 2003

But the setting up of a European Defence policy suffers from the absence of capabilities, and a French official told journalists after the meeting that “it is confusing to take decisions, positions, adopt documents without having the necessary tools for implementation.” The European Union pledged to set up a Rapid Reaction force of 60 000 soldiers by 2003. However, due to the Turkish veto on the use of NATO assets by the European Union, the European Union does not have access to tools to back the future force. “We are in contact with Turkey on that subject,” Belgian defence minister said. The Belgian Presidency intends to declare the future Rapid Reaction force operational at the Laeken Summit, in December, but some EU officials consider the operability cannot be declared if Turkey does not lift the veto.

After the terrorist attacks in the United States, French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin has called for giving the future EU rapid reaction force the mandate to defend the EU territory, not only to participate in external peace-keeping operations. However, Belgian minister of defense told that extending the mandate of the future European force was not on the agenda yet.

The 15 ministers also concluded that the European Union should consider getting more involved in the present peace-keeping operations in the Balkans, in Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia, in order to close the security gap left by the involvement of US forces in Afghanistan.

Formal Defence Council wanted

The EU defense ministers only meet informally, there is not yet an official formation of the Council of ministers of defense in the European Union, since defense is not EU competence, it is a matter of co-operation between EU countries. But the majority of ministers thinks that it is necessary to set up a formal Defense Council meeting, in the light of the new importance attached to effective defense an improving EU’s role in the global anti-terrorist fight. They will address an official request to the ministers of foreign affairs to set up a defence council.

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