BRUSSELS — The outgoing chairman of the EU’s military committee, Swedish Gen. Hakan Syren, appears to be pinning his hopes on fresh momentum being given to EU pooling and sharing initiatives via a meeting of EU heads of state next year.
Speaking to journalists at a press conference here Oct. 31, he pointed to 15 different pooling and sharing projects and 11 opportunities for projects that had been presented at a meeting of EU chiefs of defense the same day.
“Member states are around the table. We’re creating new clusters [of member states],” he said. But he pointed out that “we’ve come to a glass ceiling” and need a “top down” impetus, by which he was referring to an EU heads of state level in 2013 where defense matters would be discussed. “This is the first time that defense matters will have been discussed at this level since 2008,” he said.
“We have shrinking budgets and are lacking capabilities as was shown in the Libya conflict,” he said. “The center of gravity is moving from our continent to the Far East and we must act in a long-term perspective so that we are not marginalized,” he added.
He also referred to the problem of duplication in the EU.
“There are several, over 12, manufacturers of armored vehicles [in the EU]. Do we need that? We are buying four different types of combat aircraft right now. Do we need that? Do we have the money for that? “We need to start a discussion on how we can streamline EU war schools, joint equipment maintenance” and look at “how we can do training, education and exercises smarter.”
French Gen. Patrick de Rousier will be taking over from Syren as chairman of the EU’s military committee next week. He hinted that he would like to revive the idea of a military Erasmus initiative (whereby personnel from armed forces in one country would do exchanges with personnel from another), which France was pushing for during its presidency of the EU. He also wants to continue to build “more solidarity between armed forces via exercises. Paper exercises are good enough,” he added.