DEFENSE COOPERATION

E.U. Establishes Military Command Center

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Picture Source: Reuters

Just don’t call it a headquarters.

The European Union has established a command center in Brussels to coordinate the bloc’s foreign military deployments in Mali, Somalia and the Central African Republic.

“We have a European command center on the way,” German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said in Brussels on Monday.

The European Union has long sought to deepen military coordination within the bloc, but has faced resistance from Britain and some Eastern European countries, who are skeptical of setting up European command structures that run parallel to the trans-Atlantic NATO alliance.

Discussions have accelerated in the wake of Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, which could remove a long-standing political obstacle to increased military coordination.

In a concession to those concerns, E.U. leaders decided against using the politically-fraught word “headquarters.” Instead, the command center has been named the Military Planning and Conduct Capability, or MPCC.

The Brussels command central will be staffed by up to 35 experts who will coordinate member states’ contributions to E.U. military missions in the areas of diplomacy, economic development and military and police training.

In addition to the Brussels command center, the E.U. will also continue to operate mission centers in five member states. The naval mission Sophia, for example, which fights human traffickers and rescues migrants crossing the Mediterranean, will continue to operate out of Rome.

The European Union’s stalled efforts to increase military cooperation have acquired new momentum as the bloc grapples with a wave of deadly terrorist attacks, wars in the Middle East that have triggered a massive wave of migration, and heightened tensions with Russia in Eastern Europe.

Uncertainty about the U.S. commitment to NATO has also strengthened voices calling for an independent E.U. defense capability.

Discussions have accelerated in the wake of Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, which could remove a long-standing political obstacle to increased military coordination. London has said it would veto any attempt to create a European army for as long as it remains an E.U. member state.

Uncertainty about U.S. commitment to NATO has also strengthened voices calling for an independent E.U. defense capability. U.S. President Donald Trump has called the alliance “obsolete” and has pressured European countries to do more for their own defense.

But there are divisions in Europe about the best way forward. The German government, for example, has rejected calls by France and Italy to finance a proposed €5-billion ($5.3 billion) E.U. defense fund with new debt, according to a government position paper obtained by Handelsblatt.

The European Commission proposed the defense fund in November as a way to increase cooperation, save money and streamline the procurement of arms and other defense systems within the European Union.

Under the two-part plan, Brussels would redirect €500 million annually from the E.U. budget to research defense technology, and the member states would contribute to a nearly €5-billion fund for the joint procurement of helicopters or drones.

The E.U. executive body has proposed that if spending on the fund increases national budget deficits, this spending could be viewed as a “one-time measure,” exempt from the bloc’s deficit rules.

Paris and Rome, which are struggling to meet the E.U. budget rules, are strongly in favor of this form of financing, according to E.U. diplomats, but Berlin could block the proposal with a veto.

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