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It is not only in view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that Europeans are trying to orient and mobilise themselves. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen proclaimed a more geopolitical stance for the EU when she took office. The EU intends to play a greater role in global crisis management. According to a survey, this is what the citizens want as well. Last year, 77 per cent of Europeans supported efforts to develop a common EU security and defence policy (source: High Representative Josep Borrell, citing Eurobarometer). Josep Borrell never gets tired of calling for more commitment. At the 6 May meeting of EU defence ministers, he concluded, “We must prepare for the next crises and respond quickly.” That involves “making the EU’s operational engagement more effective.”

The deliberations at the 6 May meeting focused on one of the four main issues at hand: crisis management. A “number of ideas” were “put on the table,” the EU High Representative reports. According to rumours, a total of 22 non-papers, describing different perspectives on how to prepare for the next crises and approaches to respond quickly. All more or less focused on the operational aspect of the common security and defence policy: How can CSDP operations and missions be made more robust,
agile and efficient? Where should the European Union act as a priority? And how?

Now a new unit is supposed to do the job – although the EU Battle Group has not yet proven its usefulness. Will ‘the new entity’ help to hide the fact that for the time being a truly global ambition seems to be unattainable?

14 member states, including France and Germany, have endorsed the idea of an EU Initial Entry Force. The approximately 5,000-strong unit (land forces, supported by air force and naval components if needed) would be deployed quickly in the early stages of a crisis. For those familiar with the Common Foreign and Security Policy: old wine in new barrels. As early as 1999, the ‘European Headline Goal’ gave birth to the idea of international crisis management with a force of 60,000 troops ready for worldwide operations within 60 days (within the framework of the Petersberg tasks in force at the time). In 2007, the rotating EU Battle Group was established to respond quickly to crises. Since then, two battle groups (1,500 men each) have always been on standby for a period of six months on a rotating basis. They have never been used so far. It could form the nucleus for the ‘initial entry force’ that has now been raised.

Brussels observers believe that the new initiative is a fresh attempt on the road to
an EU army. After Brexit, the Union finds itself freed from a fierce opponent of such aspirations.

On the other hand, it is not for lack of ideas that the European Union still does not use the language of power, as High Representative Josep Borrell likes to put it. The EU is proving to be financially strong, to be sure. It has a common budget for defence. Overall, however, it appears powerless. This is not only due to internal differences of opinion among the member states regarding the form of EU foreign policy. As the example, the special conference on the situation in the Middle East on 18 May showed it was not possible to agree on a joint final communiqué. Member states are only – to a limited extent – fulfilling their obligations in terms of missions and operations. This ranges from the lack of deployment of capabilities to individual soldiers. In an earlier interview with our sister magazine +Maritime Security and Defence+, the head of the EU Military Staff, Admiral Hervé Bléjean, referred to capability gaps due to a lack of units and the shortage of personnel in ongoing operations.

This article originally appeared in the July 2021 issue of European Security and Defence, click here to download the full issue in PDF format.

Hans Uwe Mergener