Demonstrators march past a French tank Jan. 10 in Bangui, Central African Republic, amid sectarian violence in the country. European Union ministers plan to consider sending military or civil personnel there at their meeting this month. (ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP via Getty Images)
BRUSSELS — European Union foreign ministers are to discuss broadening the French mission to the Central African Republic, possibly by adding some EU military or civil involvement, at their Jan. 20 meeting.
In a related development, the EU’s high representative for foreign policy was tasked by EU heads of state last month to look at how EU military operations might be funded in the future.
The EU has the so-called Athena mechanism, an ad hoc fund that EU member states contribute to for specific operations to pay for things like accommodation and transport costs for troops.
On Jan. 10, ambassadors discussed proposals by the EU’s External Action Service to send a joint EU military force to the Central African Republic. The EU is considering sending troops to secure the main roads from the Central African Republican to neighboring Cameroon, or sending soldiers to protect the airport in Bangui, the republic’s capital, to relieve French troops.
The troops from a joint EU force could also be used to protect civilians and international aid workers.
If ambassadors agreed to send a force, it could involve 700 to 1,000 troops under the command of a senior EU military staff official. If agreed, the foreign ministers would then approve detailed operational planning at their Jan. 20 meeting.
Vivien Pertusot, the head of the French think tank IFRI, said he expects European countries to help with logistical support, but not to favor a substantial EU presence in the Central African Republic to complement or replace the French force.
As for the idea of a separate EU fund, as desired by France, to go alongside the EU’s Athena mechanism, Pertusot sees reluctance among EU countries and, if anything, the possibility of an EU fund that could be used only if an EU Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) mission were agreed upon.
“As long as the Athena mechanism has not been reviewed completely, it is not realistic to expect another fund for CSDP operations,” he said. “Many member states won’t see the point of it when there is already the Athena mechanism, even if it would be for different things.”
As for the EU leaders meeting in December, Pertusot underlined the tasking of the EU’s high representative and the European Defence Agency (EDA) to try to increase transparency and information sharing in defense planning in coherence with NATO planning processes.
“In the EU, it’s difficult to have all member states disclosing information about defense planning and procurement. It’s just not happening,” he said. “It’s good that this reference is the conclusion of the EU summit of leaders, as the EDA can put pressure on member states to do this.”
The type of information could be about what countries want to keep and what they intend to buy, he argued. Two or more countries may want to buy the same capability, and could then save money by doing it together, he added.
Pertusot cited the Netherlands’ decision to get rid of all of its tanks without informing others, including its main partner Germany. “That kind of information could be shared,” he said.
Asked for potential deliverables this year stemming from the EU summit, Pertusot suggested EU-level certification for military planes rather than the current process of certifying military planes in different EU countries.
Nick Witney, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations and former CEO of the EDA, agrees. He noted the “tough mid-2014 deadline for reporting back on progress on options to lower the costs of military certification.”
If EU military certification for military planes could be agreed upon, he said, it would mean that the next time, the EU could avoid classic examples of duplication and waste such as the NH90 helicopter, which had to be retested and recertified for flight several times.
Pertusot also said giving a value-added tax exemption for cooperative defense programs might be agreed on this year.
In general, Witney bemoaned “zero evidence of imaginative military thinking in terms of military cooperation in the EU summit conclusions.” He referred to ideas that he has already floated, such as air policing done in common over EU airspace or EU coordination of naval deployments, with different EU countries taking it on in turns, providing frigates in particular parts of the world.
On the plus side, he welcomed the references by EU leaders to the drone, air-to-air refueling and satellite communications programs being coordinated by the EDA.
“Drones are desperately needed. Europe is so far behind the US and Israel. It’s important for the military and the future of civilian airspace. The areas of remote piloted air systems is an area about to explode and Europe is being left behind,” Witney warned.
He said the 2016 deadline for getting drones flying in regulated airspace is “key to moving the whole subject forward,” and expressed regret that EU leaders did not ask for an update on progress on this in 2015. ■