Observatory on European Defence, March 2009
March 6, 2009
EDA - Capabilities
The European Defence Agency (EDA) is going to establish a Procurement Cell to coordinate the EU Member States' orders of commercial satellite communications services. The Cell, a pilot project which will last for three years (2009-2012), will be useful for gaining practical experience with centralizing satellite services procurement. EDA's intention is to replace the Cell with a permanent structure at the end of the three years. Satellite communications are essential for ESDP crisis management operations, and better procurement coordination should allow member states to utilize space assets at a lower price. Business volume of the Cell activities should be no less than 30 million euros a year.
The first Multinational Helo Mountain Exercise took place between the 6th and the 20th of March on the French Alps. The exercise was organized by EDA as part of a program to develop European helicopter capabilities. It was designed to increase the crews' abilities to operate in a mountainous environment, as it is necessary for operations in Afghanistan. 10 helicopters took part in the exercise, from the Czech Republic, Hungary, France, Spain and Belgium. The development of European helo capabilities is one of the priorities identified by the EDA and one of the weak points of European armed forces (as underlined at the most recent Force Generation Conferences). The EDA also focused its annual conference, which took place on the 10th of March, on helo capabilities. The conference was attended by, among others, the High Representative for the CSFP, Javier Solana, and the Chairman of the EU Military Committee, General Bentegeat.
March 12-13, 2009
Defence ministers informal summitt - Bosnia and Herzegovina, Tchad/Rca
The ministers expressed a favourable opinion on the reconfiguration of the Althea operation, deployed in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The military goals of the mission have been accomplished, and the ministers believe it would be possible to transform the mission into a support and training mission for the Bosnian army. Reconfiguration would reduce Althea personnel from 2,200 to 200 men. Countries like Bulgaria, the UK and Slovakia, however, do fear that such a reduction would deprive the High Representative of the international community (who is also an/the EU representative) of the necessary military support. In order to be executed, the reconfiguration should be approved by the General Affairs and External Relations Council which, in its March 16th session, did not make any decision. Althea is the only EU operation in the framework of the Berlin + agreements (which allows the EU to utilize NATO assets) and was started in December 2004 in substitution of the NATO operation Joint Forge. Althea was initially composed of more than 6,000 men and later reduced to the current 2,200, of which 400 are Italians, including the operation commander, General Castagnotto.
Defence ministers also expressed their satisfaction for the imminent conclusion of the EU military mission in Chad and in the Central African Republic (EUFOR Tchad/Rca), formally completed on March 15th , when the European force was replaced by the UN MINURCAT operation. EUFOR Tchad/Rca was considered a success; for a year, a total of more than 10,000 men from 18 different countries guaranteed the civilians' and the humanitarian workers' security in the east of Chad and in the Central African Republic, an area made unstable by the close conflict in Darfur. The operation, however, also highlighted some of the European forces' gaps, in particular the scarcity of helicopters. The mission was the largest ever EU operation in Africa and also included contingents from Albania, Croatia and Russia. After its conclusion, around 2,000 men have remained in service in MINURCAT. The success of the operation was welcomed even by the GAERC and the Spring European Council on the 19th and 20th of March.
March 16, 2009
General Affairs and Relations Council - Afghanistan
On March 16th the General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) reaffirmed its commitment to financially assist the Afghan government for the presidential and provincial elections of August 2009, as well as its intention to send an electoral monitoring mission (the size of which is still being discussed). The GAERC also noted that the arrival of reinforcements to the police mission EUPOL Afghanistan goes on. The mission is still understaffed, with around 250 men on the ground instead of 400. EUPOL Afghanistan aims to contribute to the reform of law and order in the country by training, monitoring and tutoring Afghan security forces.
It seems that pressure exercised by the new American administration for a broader European involvement in Afghanistan is beginning to pay off. French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner proposed to employ in Afghanistan the European Gendarmerie Force (composed by soldiers from Spain, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and Romania), in addition to EUPOL. The agreement has not been confirmed, and some countries (Italy and Germany in particular) have doubts about sending the Gendarmerie for fear of coordination issues with EUPOL and ISAF. Regarding ISAF, the British Chief of Staff, General Richard Dannat, announced the possibility of sending in Afghanistan an additional contingent of 1,700-2,000 men.
March 19-20, 2009
European Council - Energy security
On March 19th and 20th the Spring European Council took place. European heads of state or government focused on the global economic crisis and the European countermeasures. But the Council also approved the second strategic revision on energy - "An EU energy security and solidarity action plan"- already approved by the Energy Council on February 19th. The European Council then invited the Commission to study proposals in order to realize the initiatives contained in the strategic revision. Specifically, the European Council underlined the necessity to develop energy infrastructures and interconnections, as well as the importance of creating new anti-crisis mechanisms and promoting energy efficiency. The Council also strongly advocated more supply diversification and a more efficient and liberalised European energy market. The Commission proposals will be at the basis of the debate on the new European Energy Action Plan (2013-2020).
NATO - Somalia
On March 24th, NATO resumed counter-piracy operations with operation Allied protector. Five units from NATO Standing Maritime Group 1 (NSMG 1) will cruise off the coast of Somalia, in the Gulf of Aden, until the end of June. The operation fits in the framework of the international community's efforts to counter piracy in the area, an effort characterized by both initiatives of single states (like the US) and by collective initiatives (like the EU military operation Atalanta).
Between the 2nd and the 13th of March the same units from NSMG 1, with 31 other units, participated in the exercise Loyal Mariner 09, off the coasts of Sardinia. The goal of the exercise was to verify the units' readiness before their period of service in the NATO Response Force. Loyal Mariner involved various kind of units, including minesweepers, an aircraft carrier and a submarine, and was considered successful.
EU, NATO - Georgia, Russia
On March 5th, NATO defence ministers approved the resumption of formal meetings with Russian representatives in the NATO-Russia Council, the main forum of discussion between Moscow and the allies. Meetings were suspended following the Russia-Georgian conflict of August 2008. The first meeting should take place after the Strasbourg NATO Summit. NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer underlined that the decision does not, in any way, imply the recognition of the two secessionist regions of Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Ministers also discussed Russian President Medvedev's proposals for a new European security architecture, which have not yet been made public. The EU still defends Georgian sovereignty and territorial integrity, but it also would like to have good relations with Russia. On March 20th the European Council approved the Eastern Partnership, which includes Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus and has a budget of 600 million euros. The partnership should foster the creation of association agreements and free trade zones in order to promote stability and economic growth in the partner countries.
EU - Middle East
The EU announced a 436 million euro contribution to the rebuilding of Gaza at the aid conference in Sharm el Sheik, Egypt, on March 2nd. Besides the conference, there was a meeting of the Quartet (the EU, the UN, USA and Russia) to discuss the relaunch of the peace process. On March 13th the High Representative for the CFSP Solana declared to be seriously worried about the Israeli intention to demolish more than 90 houses in East Jerusalem, which would deprive more than 1,000 Palestinians of a roof. Solana consider this demolition dangerous for the peace process. On March 16th the GAERC approved an agreement with Israel on the exchange of classified information. On March 31st, the EU Political and Security Committee approved Turkey's participation in EUPOL COPPs, the EU police mission in Palestine. The mission, staffed by around 40 officers, aims to improve the Palestinian police capabilities and started in January 2006.