EU Plan Offered To Simplify Battle Group Deployment
A group of European parliamentarians and officials are working on a novel way to cut through red tape and allow European Union forces to be more easily, and more quickly, deployed.
The move follows criticism of the European Union’s battle group concept, which has seen 1,500-strong units provided by European nations undertaking six-month duty rotations since 2007.
The concept was meant to offer a quickly deployable EU force, but has never been used.
However, a growing number of EU officials are now arguing that an article in the EU’s Lisbon Treaty could speed up EU-flagged operations. Instead of relying on the EU’s unwieldy planning structure, the EU could apply Article 44.
This provision, which has never been used for military deployments, states that the European Council may hand an undefined “task” to a small group of member states, “which are willing and have the necessary capability for such a task.” The “task” would need the unanimous approval of the European Council, but could be run by the group of members signing up to carry it out.
“The idea would be to have an operation under an EU flag, on behalf of the EU, using EU funding mechanisms, but outside the EU planning structure, which would make it faster,” said Thierry Tardy, a senior analyst with the European Union Institute for Security Studies.
“All multinational planning structures are slow and in this case too slow for the evacuation of nationals from an African country in 72 hours, for example,” he said. Under Article 44, the operation could begin immediately, he said, and if it lasted a couple months, could then become a regular EU operation.
In a paper published last month, Tardy argued that France’s intervention in Mali last year could have become an EU mission if Article 44 had been used, given that the European Council had supported the operation.
This month, politicians at an inter-European meeting of parliamentarians in Rome were planning how Article 44 could galvanize the battle group concept.
“The idea is to revive the battle groups, which risk failing,” said Massimo Artini, a member of the Italian parliament’s defense commission. “We are spending half a billion euros on the groups a year. We need to use them or lose them,” he added. “We have battle groups but we don’t have the instruments to use them.”
“Article 44 is possibly our last chance,” Artini said.
A document approved by the meeting called Article 44 “a very useful tool for the EU to intervene in crisis scenarios with more speed and flexibility and encourages its use.”
The document called on a follow up meeting of EU politicians in Riga, Latvia, next spring to develop the plan. Italy, France and the Netherlands have formed a working group to draw up a proposal for the Riga meeting, said Artini, adding that Germany, Poland and Spain were set to join the group.
Tardy said no new regulation was needed to invoke Article 44, since it was already in the Lisbon Treaty. “All it would take is at least two nations to invoke it,” he said.
Tardy was skeptical, however, that the article could be applied to a battle group deployment, arguing it was better suited to a regular deployment of troops by the countries signing up to the mission.
“Article 44 actually contrasts with the battle groups concept because it depends on the countries launching the mission, not on the country which happens to be on battle group stand-by at the time,” he said. “On the other hand, if the stand-by country wants to deploy, they could invoke Article 44 itself.”
A second defense expert said action is needed to rescue the battle groups from failure. “They seemed to be a silver bullet, they seemed workable and affordable,” said Alessandro Politi, the director of the NATO defense college foundation in Rome.
“They didn’t involve grandiose ideas of moving thousands of soldiers around, and contributions by countries were clear. The problem, however, was costs,” he said.
“Additionally, there was the angst on the part of countries like the UK that the battle groups would weaken NATO, as well as the problem of consensus among Europeans.”