22nd Mar 2018


The EU needs to make itself battle-ready

A week before Christmas, EU heads of state and government are set to discuss security and defence at their regular European Council meeting in Brussels. It may not be a typical pre-holiday topic, but its urgency makes us focus on it even in the time of family gatherings and last-minute Christmas shopping.

After all, this should be a time of peace, which is exactly the objective of the upcoming discussion.

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The European Union is by all accounts the strongest global player in the soft power arena. The level of our development aid and the economic ties with the least developed countries set a good example for the rest of the world. Soft power itself, though, cannot solve all the challenges we now face.

If we are to engage in crises and conflicts in our neighbourhood and support the resilience of third countries we must increase our efforts in hard power policies as well. Now is the time to do so and we should not miss the opportunity to move forward.

With this in mind, the Czech Republic believes the EU should – within the framework of the current Treaties – make full use of all relevant provisions and instruments available, maximise the synergies of civilian and military assets and enhance its cooperation with Nato as much as possible.

Today’s challenges require us to reinforce our own European strategic autonomy.

This highlights an increasing need for the ability to rapidly plan operations and deploy forces, including the so-called EU Battlegroups (EUBGs). Next year will mark the 10th anniversary of their full operational capability. However, since the EUBGs have never been deployed there will be little to celebrate.

Having been part of the Visegrad 4 EUBG on standby from January till June 2016 and benefiting from the experience of other Member States, we have decided to share our thoughts on the matter. Our recent national non-paper on the EUBGs sets out four main tangible issues to be tackled.

First, there is the structure of the EUBG itself. The current system contributes to certain unpredictability and we should strive towards more standardised EUBGs. Second, there needs to be a common element in the certification process. Third, the preparation and certification would benefit from greater use of live exercises. And fourth, we must expand the scope for common financing. Financial constraints are limiting the very willingness to contribute to the EUBGs and, subsequently, to deploy them.

The proposed issues may sound technical but they represent concrete steps that would help us revive this already existing instrument and boost our ability to react to sudden crises and conflicts in our neighbourhood.

We must make sure that these military units are ready to go into action if necessary not only on paper but also in reality. This is important for many reasons – not least because the EUBGs must prove they can serve their purpose when the taxpayers ask where their money goes.

Tomas Prouza is state secretary for European affairs of the Czech Republic.

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