27th May 2019

EU Balkan mission under time pressure

The North Atlantic Council and the EU Political and Security Committee met on Wednesday, 5 February to discuss the situation in the Western Balkans and, above all, the agreement for EU access to NATO assets, the so-called `Berlin Plus' agreement. This was already adopted in principle at the EU Copenhagen Summit last December, but details still have to be hammered out. If the agreement is finalised by the end of February, the EU will be able in March to take over the command of operation Allied Harmony from NATO in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Solana: EU to take over from NATO in March

Speaking to journalists, NATO Secretary General George Robertson declared that `NATO sees a clear role ahead for the EU in operation Allied Harmony and perhaps also in the Stabilisation Force in Bosnia-Herzegovina at the end of the year'. He also said that other issues were discussed, such as co-operation against terrorism and civil emergency planning. According to Javier Solana, EU High Representative for CFSP, `Berlin Plus will be produced on time so that the EU will be able to take over from NATO in March'. Neither Mr Robertson nor Mr Solana hinted at what the persisting obstacles are.

The sticking point

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The sticking point might still be EU access to classified material and information as four EU members - Austria, Ireland, Finland and Sweden - do not belong to NATO because of neutrality. The European Parliament is reported to be particularly keen on having democratic control over EU security and defence issues, which might imply some sort of access to NATO classified material. NATO might be loathe to grant this access given the presence of the four neutral states. A special committee of four trusted MEPs has been selected to be given access to this material. This committee includes a representative from Sweden, Liberal MEP Cecilia Malmström.

The other members elected for the special committee are French Christian Democrat MEP Philippe Morillon, Commander of the United Nations Forces in Bosnia (1992-1993) and Commander of the Rapid Reaction Force (1994-1996), German Social Democrat MEP Jannis Sakellariou, who was the academic director at the University of the Armed Forces, Munich (1976-1984) and French Socialist MEP Catherine Lalumiere.

The group is chaired by Elmar Brok, German Christian Democrat and chairman of the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs, Human Rights, Common Security and Defence Policy.

These selected MEPs will now have to confront their respective national legislation procedures in order to have access to the classified documents. They will also have to be checked by their national intelligence services with the view of starting their work as soon as the NATO-EU agreement is in place.

If the obstacles to the finalisation of Berlin Plus are not removed, the first ever EU military operation could be delayed until June.

EU to take the lead in Macedonia in March

The European Union will take over NATO's Task Force Fox mission in Macedonia next March. To discuss these matters the EU Political Security Committee will meet with their colleagues from the North Atlantic Committee on ambassador’s level today, Wednesday 5 February at the EU Council in Brussels.

"Essentially there are no real problems for the transition" a NATO official said, "we are working on technical aspects with experts from both sides".


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