France frustrated by Europe’s shortcomings in Central African Republic

French troops, Central African Republic. [Shutterstock]

During a foreign affairs council in Brussels, EU member states tried in vain to revitalise the planned EUFOR mission to the Central African Republic. France’s beckoning goes unheeded as it continues to play a critical role in the country. EURACTIV France reports.

There are still no European reinforcements in the Central African Republic, or CAR. Although European member states have supported France’s military operations in its former colony financially, logistically and with human capital, the mobilisation struggles to materialise.

During a ministerial council on foreign affairs in Brussels (17 March) which was dominated by matters in Ukraine, diplomats from 28 member states submitted a press release on the Central African Republic.

As stated in the press release, “the Council stresses the need to speed up work on the preparation of the CSDP-EUFOR CAR operation so that it can be launched quickly in accordance with the commitments undertaken by the European Union.”

Frustration in Paris

The lack of a concrete response from the EU regarding the delay of the EUFOR mission frustrates the French Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs. Indeed, France had already taken a strong stance on 14 March ahead of the meeting in Brussels.

On Tuesday 18 March, Laurent Fabius said “I reminded all my colleagues yesterday that Europe committed itself and as of yet has not lived up to its word. I therefore asked them to make more of an effort.”

In a joint communiqué, Fabius, and Minister of Defence, Jean-Yves Le Drian, called on their counterparts in Europe to turn words into action. The ministers stated that “the EU committed itself on 10 February to deploy a military operation in order to support international efforts and stabilise the situation in the Central African Republic. To this day, despite the contribution of some member states, one cannot but notice that Europe has not done enough".

The ministers add that “if greater efforts are not made soon, the mission originally planned for next week will not be launched. The EU must assume its responsibilities in relation to international security. France calls on its partners to do what it takes.”

Malaise in Brussels

French ministers are not alone to have sounded the alarm. In a letter addressed to the member states (11 March), Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, also reminded them of their responsibilities.

Addressed to the member states’ foreign affairs ministers, the letter denounces the fact that contributions given by member still do not suffice to launch the mission.

Many elements are yet to be provided, “notably in logistics, personnel required for the headquarters and infantry unites” underlined the Vice President of the European Commission.

Other criticisms towards the member states include: “In the short term, the EU’s failure to deploy forces in the Central African Republic could jeopardise the UN’s capacity to carry out military operations.” In the long term, it is “the EU’s credibility” which is at stake.

Up until now calls for mobilisation have fallen on deaf ears. Foreign affair ministers claim that the military operation, which was to be launched 17 March, will be postponed for some weeks.

The matter will be discussed by heads of state and the European government during the summit held in Brussels on 20 and 21 March.

However EURACTIV received a copy of the talk's initial conclusions, which hint at significant developments. It states that “the EU emphasises the urgent need to mobilise financial and operational support for the African led International Support Mission to the Central African Republic (MISCA) and reaffirms Europe’s commitment to deploy its EUROFOR RCA mission in the coming weeks.”

The two thousand French military personnel of the Sangaris operation (French military operation) and six thousand African soldiers of MISCA are still waiting for the reinforcements promised by the member states. EUFOR CAR should have been launched on 17 March 2014 and amount to hundreds of soldiers.

Not all member states promised to support France as part of the European mission. Large countries like the UK, Germany and Italy refused to send soldiers to a former French colony. Others like Belgium, Estonia, Poland and Sweden still consider contributing to the military efforts.

Challenging humanitarian situation

Whilst political difficulties increase in Europe, the humanitarian situation in the Central Africa Republic remains delicate.

Pascal Canfin, Minister Delegate for Development, visited the country to stress France’s support to NGOs on 14 March. He carried out this visit alongside the German Minister for Cooperation, Gerd Müller, and the European Commission for Development, Andris Piebalgs.

During the visit the European delegation announced the granting of an additional €81 million to the Central African Republic.

This extension compliments the €20 million promised in early 2014 aimed at supporting the country’s electoral process. The Commission outlines that a total of €101 million was released in 2014 to the Central African Republic in response to the ongoing crisis.

Independent expert of the UN on human rights in the Central African Republic, Marie-Thérèse Keita Bocoum, calls for firmer action from the international community in CAR where “the Central African population is the only victim of violence committed by armed groups, militia and bandits.”

She adds “I therefore call on the international community to do all that is possible to launch a peace mission capable of bringing about and ensuring peace across the entire country.”

“We cannot deprive the transitional President Catherine Samba-Panza of the means necessary” to return CAR to constitutional order, declared Belgian MEP Louis Michel from the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), Vice President of the ACP–EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly, as he opened its 27th session in Strasbourg.

Speaking to EURACTIV last July, EU Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva called the Central African Republic, a former French colony of 4.6 million people, “the country that the world forgot”.

Georgieva said the Central African Republic, or CAR, was in "complete chaos" while adding that Niger, northern Mali and Sudan's Darfur region were also plagued by lawlessness.

Some 91% of the humanitarian disasters occur off the radar screen, she said, saying that millions of people suffered and hundreds of thousands were dying in overlooked conflict areas with little attention for the outside world.

Georgieva said she was taking the CAR case “very personally,”, pledging 15% of her the humanitarian budget to “forgotten crises”. Development Commissioner Andris Piebalgs has agreed that foreign aid funds also would be dedicated to such areas.

  • 20-21 March 2014: Heads of State and EU government Summit in Brussels
  • 2-3 April 2014: EU-Africa Summit in Brussels


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