21st Mar 2023

EU piles on pressure for new military units

  • EU wants to create a force of some 5,000 troops to help secure its strategic interests abroad (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)
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The EU wants the ability to rapidly deploy several thousand troops as part of a larger strategic plan to be discussed and possibly adopted in November.

The issue was debated among 25 EU ministers of defence in Slovenia on Thursday (2 September).

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"We need to increase our capacity to be able to act autonomously, when and where necessary," the EU's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, told reporters following the ministerial meeting.

He said up to 5,000 troops under the aegis of the European Union would be ideal and could be used for specific missions. The EU had previously floated the idea of some 50,000 troops by 2003 following the Yugoslav wars. The goal was never reached.

French president Emmanuel Macron made similar overtures in 2018 when he spoke about the need to create a "real European army" to face off Russian aggression.

Now the pressure follows the chaotic US exit from Afghanistan last month. Europeans, dependent on US might and coordination, were also forced to leave as Taliban forces rapidly took over the country.

Borrell has been pressing for military solutions for years, telling reporters in early 2020 that Africa 'needs guns' for stability.

In an op-ed in the New York Times earlier this week, he described Afghanistan as a "wake up call" and proposed the creation of a European "initial entry force".

He made similar comments again on Thursday, hoping to assuage concerns that such a force would create tensions with the US alliance or with Nato.

Slovenia's defence minister Matej Tonin, also speaking on behalf of the rotating EU presidency, aligned with Borrell.

"This debacle in Afghanistan, also showed that, unfortunately, the EU doesn't have the necessary capability for operations in extreme circumstances," Tonin said.

He then mentioned European battlegroups, small forces of some 1,500 troops. But their deployment requires consensus among all 27 member states, he said.

"Maybe the solution is that we invent a mechanism where the classical majority will be enough and those who are willing will be able to go," he had said, earlier in the day.

Asked who would command such troops, he said "the institutions of the European Union."

The debate feeds into the EU's so-called strategic Strategic Compass, a plan that sets to define its ambitions for security and defence for the next five to 10 years.

The Strategic Compass will be debated and possibly adopted on 16 November, said Borrell.

The EU muscling up on the military also comes on the heels of a new European Peace Facility adopted earlier this year.

The facility is a €5bn fund used to finance EU-led military and defence operations abroad. It includes providing weapons and training to foreign armies.

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