6th Dec 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:
Listen to article

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).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

"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.

Borrell: Africa 'needs guns' for stability

The EU's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the EU will help provide Africa with more guns to fight terrorism. "We need guns, we need arms, we need military capacities," he said in Addis Ababa.


EU lags behind on 'military ambition'

Indecision on what kind of EU military forces would fight in what kind of conflicts is holding back EU ambition on "strategic autonomy", according to an internal document.

EU 'will engage but not recognise' Taliban, it says

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said they want to send a "joint European presence" to Kabul in order to help evacuate Europeans and other Afghan nationals to willing member states.

Latest News

  1. 'Green' banks lend most to polluters, reveals ECB
  2. Tense EU-China summit showdown unlikely to bear fruit
  3. A look to the past and the future of China-EU relations
  4. Tusk's difficult in-tray on Poland's judicial independence
  5. EU nears deal to fingerprint six year-old asylum seekers
  6. Orbán's Ukraine-veto threat escalates ahead of EU summit
  7. Can Green Deal survive the 2024 European election?
  8. Protecting workers' rights throughout the AI revolution

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersArtist Jessie Kleemann at Nordic pavilion during UN climate summit COP28
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP28: Gathering Nordic and global experts to put food and health on the agenda
  3. Friedrich Naumann FoundationPoems of Liberty – Call for Submission “Human Rights in Inhume War”: 250€ honorary fee for selected poems
  4. World BankWorld Bank report: How to create a future where the rewards of technology benefit all levels of society?
  5. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsThis autumn Europalia arts festival is all about GEORGIA!
  6. UNOPSFostering health system resilience in fragile and conflict-affected countries

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us