EU foreign and defence ministers on Monday (6 March) agreed to create a joint command centre for the bloc’s military missions, a step towards more EU cooperation on security and defence.
Last December, EU leaders agreed to beef up their capabilities in responding to external conflicts and crisis, build the capacities of partners and strategically protect Europeans. Another part of the agreement was to explore ways to establish “a permanent operational planning and conduct capability at the strategic level”.
Today, the 28 countries backed the Planning and Conduct Capability (MPCC) with a view to it taking over this spring.
The embryonic military headquarters has long been opposed by Britain, the bloc’s leading military power, but the idea was revived by Germany and France after the British voted to leave the EU.
The organisation would command the bloc’s “non-executive military missions”, within the existing EU military staff of the European External Action Service (EEAS). These include the three military training missions the bloc now runs in Mali, Somalia and Central African Republic.
“These missions are important for peacekeeping but also for security in the region,” said Carmelo Abela, foreign minister of Malta, whose country chairs the rotating presidency of the EU.
— EU2017MT (@EU2017MT) March 6, 2017
In the future, this could also cover any capacity-building, monitoring or demobilisation and disarmament military missions.
“We are progressing steadily towards strengthened defence cooperation and we will continue to do more,” EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini said after the ministers’ meeting.
“It is not a European army – I know this is the label going around – it is a more effective way of handling our military work,” Mogherini insisted..
“This is about protecting our citizens. The European Union has unique tools to help Europeans to take more responsibility for their own security, and to do more effectively. This is what we are doing with our work in security and defence.”
— EU2017MT (@EU2017MT) March 6, 2017
The MPCC was greeted as a first step in the right direction by MEP Guy Verhofstadt, who insisted the EU should move progressively turn this into a fully-fledged EU military headquarters.
Even if symbolically significant, the MPCC would in practice consist of only some 30 people and will most likely be led by the current head of the military staff at the EEAS. After much debate, the head of the new body will be called director and not commander.
The creation of the EU’s military HQ is intended not to undermine NATO. Poland, which has for a long time based its own security on guarantees from Washington and the transatlantic military alliance, is also worried that more defence cooperation in the European bloc could weaken NATO’s resolve in Europe.
“If we look at the current turbulent international environment, it is clear that Europe needs to do more for its own defence and security. The establishment of a headquarters for EU military operations is important in order to plan and carry out the EU’s own operations as well as to facilitate cooperation with NATO,“ said Estonian MEP Urmas Paet (ALDE), rapporteur on the European Defence Union.
“It’s a first step,” said Didier Reynders, the Belgian foreign minister. As for “a European army, maybe later,” he said, answering questions after the meeting.
European Commission president Jean Claude Juncker called for a common EU defence headquarters last year after the Brexit vote, resurrecting an idea that had circulated in the EU for years.
In the just published White paper on the future of the EU-post Brexit, the executive underscored “NATO will continue to provide hard security for most EU countries but Europe cannot be naïve. And has to take care of its own security. Being a ‘soft power’ is no longer powerful enough when force can prevail over rules.”
Michael Fallon, the British defence minister, said he would urge the European Union “to cooperate more closely with NATO to avoid unnecessary duplication and structures.”