On 16 October, European Union diplomats will discuss a plan to give the EU a coordinating role for European military missions countering the spread of Ebola in West Africa.
EU officials and diplomats said the plan, proposed by outgoing foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, lists several options to step up and coordinate efforts by the bloc’s 28 countries. It could include cooperation among military personnel deployed by member states for rescue missions and for building field hospitals.
Britain and France, the bloc’s main military powers, are among EU and other states that have pledged military and civilian personnel alongside cash and medical supplies to combat the disease.
It is unclear how far London and Paris would support an EU coordinating role. Diplomats who spoke of the proposal said it may run into stiff resistance from some member states.
EU cooperation in the military field usually takes the shape of a formal mission under the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP). But one EU official said that this was not being considered for now. Diplomats note that preparing formal protocols for such missions typically takes many months.
Envoys are instead being asked to consider an “innovative” approach, the official said, whereby Ashton’s EU diplomatic service, the EEAS, would coordinate military airlifts and other support operations against the deadly virus. Ashton will be replaced next month by Italy’s Federica Mogherini.
Under the proposal, the coordinating role would be played by the EU military staff, a body directly under the control of the EU foreign affairs chief. This approach would spare the long negotiations and bureaucratic steps that precede the launch of a full EU military mission, the official said.
However, consensus support for such a plan “is far from guaranteed,” one diplomat said.
On Thursday, EU health ministers are holding an emergency meeting on measures to increase precautions at airports. Ebola will also be high on the agenda for a meeting of EU foreign ministers on 20 October.
The Ebola epidemic, the worst since the disease was discovered in 1976, has killed more than 4,000 people in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria and has also spread to Senegal.
Ebola is a haemorrhagic fever spread through the blood, sweat or vomit of those infected, making those working directly with the sick among the most vulnerable to the disease.
The WHO believes it will take six to nine months to contain and may infect up to 20,000 people.
F14 of Liberia's 15 counties have reported confirmed cases. As soon as a new Ebola treatment centre is opened, it is immediately swamped with patients.
Liberia's government announced it was extending a nationwide nighttime curfew imposed last month to curb the spread of the disease.
There is not yet any macroeconomic analysis of Ebola's impact on West Africa, with IMF figures only indicating a modest decrease in growth for Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. But NGOs on the ground describe the situation as “catastrophic”.
The first case of infection with the Ebola virus in Europe took place in Spain.