Brussels (6/5 – 40). EU seeks rapid response military force, two decades after first try.
Fourteen European Union countries including Germany and France have proposed a rapid military response force that could intervene early in international crises, a senior EU official said on Wednesday, two decades after a previous attempt.
The countries say the EU should create a brigade of 5,000 soldiers, possibly with ships and aircraft, to help democratic foreign governments needing urgent help, the official said.
EU defence ministers will take up the idea on Thursday at a regular meeting chaired by EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who has chided the bloc for reluctance to intervene more abroad, particularly in failing states such as Libya.
The 14 countries are Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain. Some problematic issues faces the EU. In the case of the Austrians its constitutional neutrality are sidestepped.
“Austrians to report to a German, or Italian commander raises uncomfortable domestic questions.”, said a senior officer in an off the record interview. “Whereas the complexity of Europe is increasing by the year, the actual commitment of combat troops evokes political uneasiness within many of the political and military leaders in the republic.”
First discussed in 1999, the EU in 2007 set up a combat-ready system of battlegroups of 1,500 personnel to respond to crises, but they have never been used. Those battle groups could now form the basis of a so-called First Entry Force, part of a new momentum towards more EU defense capabilities.
From this year, the bloc has a joint budget to develop weaponry together, is drawing up a military doctrine for 2022 and detailed its military weakness last year for the first time.
“Borrell has always said the EU needs to learn the language of power,” the official said, referring in part to military force.
With its economic power, the bloc has been able to boast of a “soft power” to spread influence through trade and aid, with only limited military missions around the world.
In contrast the NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg was talking up in 2018 his force’s readiness with the concept of the “four 30s”.
“Thirty mechanised battalions, 30 air squadrons, and 30 combat vessels ready to use within 30 days or less,” he said, also highlighting the tripling of the NATO response force.
And he was happy to declare they are operating right on Russia’s doorstep.
“For the first time in our history we have combat-ready forces, four battlegroups in the three Baltic countries and in Poland,” Mr Stoltenberg said.
The EU has already decided Poland will host the next battlegroup along with soldiers from other Visegrad nations — Czechia, Slovakia and Hungary.
So for now at least, NATO remains the major “army” in Europe and the “cornerstone” of European defense. This is scheduled to change.