Global Europe Brief: What about the EU’s military missions?

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In this week’s edition: EU military missions vs. new proposals, strategy in enlargement and Chizhov rentrée interview.

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The Czech defence ministry has sounded a warning about how  Russia is portraying the EU’s training mission in Mali (EUTM Mali), with Moscow pushing the narrative “that the EU occupies Mali”.

EUTM Mali is an EU multinational military training mission with the participation of 22 member states as well as 3 non-EU members and roughly 900 personnel. Germany, Spain and the Czech Republic are the main contributors. But defence officials note that local people in Mali are not aware of the EU’s mission.

Strategic communication – not only in Mali but also in other parts of the world – is among the top priorities of the Czech defence ministry and EURACTIV.cz has learnt that the country wants to push this agenda as it takes over the rotating six-month EU Council presidency in the second half of 2022.

There have not been many reactions from the EU side on the matter so far.

However, EURACTIV understands at the same time that there is no appetite to discuss the way the EU’s military missions are run and communicated, at least not until the EU’s Strategic Compass, the bloc’s upcoming new master military strategy document, has materialised in the first half of next year.

“If we’re discussing new potential tools in such a heated manner as the EU initial entry force, imagine what would happen when we try to make changes to our military training missions,” an EU diplomat told EURACTIV, adding that he had “no doubts the French would love that, but nothing coming from Paris on this in the next year will be too rational”.

Asked whether the EU’s has been making the right use of military mission so far, Czech Deputy Defence Minister Jan Havránek told EURACTIV that against the background of Afghanistan, “it is only natural that we all think hard whether there is room for improving the EU’s approach to security and defence, specifically to capacity building in terms of our CSDP missions and operations”.

“When it comes to CSDP missions and operations, each of them is tailor-made based on the needs of the particular state that has invited us to conduct a mission on its territory and in order for the missions to be sustainable, local ownership is a must,” Havránek said.

“I am convinced that the answer lies in making amendments to the approach rather than in dramatic paradigmatic changes,” he added.

Asked about whether the new proposals discussed by EU defence ministers earlier this month – EU initial entry force and ‘coalitions of the willing’ – would affect the perceptions or purpose of existing EU missions, Havránek stressed that “the legitimacy of the CSDP missions and operations stems from its unanimity”.

The proposals made to rapidly respond to crises in the wake of the Afghanistan crisis have not been welcomed by everyone, including Swedish Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist.

“Nevertheless, for the EU to be a credible actor, it must be able to respond to crises quickly (…) and the idea of these tools should be to make the CSDP flexible, reactive, and quick enough to react to emerging crises,” he added, referring to the proposals.

Havránek said that “any such new initiatives would be directed towards the future and I doubt that they would have any impact on the purpose of the existing training missions”.

“Where they could certainly influence the existing missions is that they would allow the EU to react more flexibly to any change in the situation in the regions where our training missions operate,” he said, stressing that “in such situations, time and flexibility are indeed of the essence”.

– Aneta Zachová contributed to this report.


EU IN THE WORLD

9/11 REMEMBERED | Some leading reactions here: “On 9/11 we remember those who lost their lives and honour those who risked everything to help them. Even in the darkest, most trying of times, the very best of human nature can shine through,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said.

European Council head Charles Michel tweeted: “The horrific attacks of #September11 20 years ago changed the course of history. We remember the victims and noble sacrifice of so many first responders and aid workers. The EU stands by the US and @POTUS in the continued fight against terrorism and extremism in all its forms.”

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the attacks had been organised by Al-Qaeda from Afghanistan. “NATO went in to prevent the country from serving as a safe haven for terrorists who could threaten us once again. And over the past two decades, no terrorist attacks against NATO Allies have been organised from Afghanistan.” However, in a New York Times interview, he also warned against risk of duplication in talks on a European initial entry force.

AFGHANISTAN GOVT | The EU has sharply criticised the composition of the new Taliban “caretaker” government, as international coordination efforts are underway to find a way to deal with the new rulers in Kabul.

EU foreign ministers had laid out their conditions for stepping up engagement with the Taliban, including the formation of an “inclusive and representative” transitional government.

Meanwhile, the EU is preparing for an influx of Afghans seeking asylum, whether people flee en masse from the new Taliban government, Frontex chief Fabrice Leggeri said, noting that millions are already displaced in neighbouring countries

IRAN DEAL | The chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi, will travel to Tehran this weekend, in a last-ditch move aimed at regaining Iranian cooperation with the agency and averting a crisis in the nuclear talks, Wall Street Journal reports.

DEFENCE CORNER

ARMS CONTROL | A group of cross-party EU lawmakers has announced they will attend the First meeting of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) in March and called the European Council to mandate the EU special envoy to attend the talk.

Most EU member states, 21 of which are members of NATO, oppose the TPNW, and only three (all non-NATO) have ratified it.

ENLARGEMENT LATEST

STRATEGIC ISSUE? | Slovenia has called for the voice of citizens from countries of the Western Balkans to be included in the Future of Europe debate.

That the last two presidencies did not achieve any progress on such a key strategic issue would be “deplorable” and “open a lot of questions”, Slovenia’s State Secretary Gašper Dovžan told EURACTIV.

Enlargement is a key strategic issue for the EU and the big tragedy of that policy area is that it somehow slipped off the agenda during the last decade and a half of various crises, instead of seeing it one as key answer to all those challenges,” he said.

‘SPECIAL RELATIONS’ | Hungary, whose government has been at odds with Brussels for a long time, has emerged as a major pro-Serbian lobbyist within the EU and this special “illiberal” relationship was formalised this week.

KOSOVO POSITION | Greece will stick to its position of not recognising Kosovo’s statehood and has called on both Serbia and its former province to continue EU-facilitated talks, Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs Miltiadis Varvitsiotis told EURACTIV Serbia.

AIR POLLUTION | More than three and a half years after the deadline for Western Balkan countries to bring their emissions in line with EU pollution limits under the Energy Community Treaty, the region is still polluting over six times more than allowed. A new report is demanding the EU needs to put more pressure on the Western Balkans to decarbonise their coal-fuelled energy system, as pollution levels remain well above compliance thresholds.

EURASIA DIGEST

CHIZHOV INTERVIEW | In a wide-ranging interview with EURACTIV’s Georgi Gotev, the Russian ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, discussed Afghanistan, the ‘Crimea Platform’, carbon border tax, COVID and vaccines, and the new political season.

CRIMEA COMMS | Russia’s President Vladimir Putin told European Council President Charles Michel this week that the EU was continuing to ‘discriminate against residents of Crimea’. Oh the irony, as the words came after Moscow yet again cracked down on Crimean Tatars and their supporters.

At the same time, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said that all-out war with neighbouring Russia was a possibility and that he wanted to have a substantive meeting with Putin.

EVACUATION EFFORTS | As the dust settled following the dramatic evacuation at Kabul airport, Georgia has received acknowledgement and praise for its role in providing critical assistance to the US and the Western partners.


WHAT ELSE WE’RE READING 

ON OUR RADAR FOR THE NEXT FEW DAYS…

We’ll keep you updated on all relevant EU foreign affairs news, as Europe’s everyday business is back from summer break.

  • IAEA chief to visit Iran amid standoff over nuclear deal
    | Sunday, 12 September 2021 | Tehran, Iran
  • European Parliament plenary session
    | Mo-Thu, 13-16 September 2021 | Strasbourg, France
  • US State Secretary Blinken testifies before both houses foreign relations committees on Afghanistan
    | Mo-Tue, 13-14 September 2021 | Washington DC, US
  • European Commission’s Joint Communication on the Indo-Pacific
    | Tuesday, 14 September 2021 | Brussels, Belgium
  • EU Commission President von der Leyen gives State of the Union speech
    | Wednesday, 15 September 2021 | Strasbourg, France
  • Collective Security Treaty Organisation / Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit
    | Thursday, 16 September 2021 | Dushanbe, Tajikistan
  • Russia parliamentary elections
    | Fri-Su, 17-19 September 2021 | Russia

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