EU revises plans for military HQ in crisis response blueprint

The European Union on Monday agreed a defence plan that could see it sending rapid response forces abroad for the first time

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini described the plans as “a qualitative leap”
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini described the plans as “a qualitative leap”

European governments endorsed a plan aimed at building military cooperation so that the bloc could act alone, as pressure builds on the region to increase its own military spending with the election of Donald Trump.

EU foreign and defence ministers meeting in Brussels on Monday signed up to a plan aimed at improving Europe’s response to conflicts and crises on their borders, but downgraded plans for the headquarters, the Guardian reported.

The UK’s decision to leave the EU and the election of Donald Trump have given fresh impetus for efforts to build what officials call Europe’s “strategic autonomy,” an ability to act independently of other major powers. 

According to a statement published after their meeting on Monday, the foreign and defense ministers said they were committed to strengthening the EU’s ability to act as a security provider.

“This will enhance its global strategic role and its capacity to act autonomously when and where necessary and with partners wherever possible,” they said.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, who has spent more than two years drawing up a blueprint, described the plans as “a qualitative leap” and promised the EU would start implementation on Tuesday.

The 16-page plan lists tasks and aims, many of which risk remaining abstract without an increase in funding, according to Reuters news agency. However, it takes on special relevance after Trump's comments during his campaign for the US presidency in which he sniped at low levels of defence spending by some of NATO's European members.

Morgherini described the EU as a superpower that was not using its security and defence potential.

The EU has been able to send rapid-reaction forces of 1,500 soldiers abroad to stabilise crises since 2007, but has never done so.

EU ministers are said to have promised to “strengthen the relevance” of the EU’s rapid-reaction forces, known as battlegroups.

According to the Guarian, the document refers to “nonexecutive military missions”, which would limit the role of an EU military HQ to overseeing operations to train soldiers, as well as civilian operations, such as police. Elsewhere, the document refers to consideration of “developing a concept” on a headquarters, another sign of the incrementalism of the plans.

EU leaders must still sign off on the plan in December, while divisive aspects over money were reportedly left for officials to work out next year. Proposals for a European military headquarters were scaled back to focus on civilian missions.

The EU currently runs 17 military and civilian missions. But EU countries have been divided over increasing the ambition of EU defence plans. France and Germany, backed by Italy and Spain, have been pressing the case for an EU headquarters. The UK, backed by the Baltic states, argued for scaling back the ambition, fearing duplication of NATO activities.

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