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Those battle groups again

Posted by Helen Monday, May 23, 2005

Another Monday another meeting of Ministers, though not necessarily of minds. This time round it was Defence and on the agenda was the need to speed up political decision-making for the proposed EU battle groups that are supposed to be up and running by 2008.

The Luxembourg Defence Minister (don’t snigger there at the back), Luc Frieden, explained:

“We decided to adopt a proposal which will help us to bring down the time within which decisions are taken to enable the EU to react rapidly to crises to avoid worse coming to pass.”
And there you have the problem – the whole plan is so nebulous in its purpose that no specifics can ever be provided.

Of course, the EU is not alone in wanting to speed up the political process with military decisions taken ever faster. The Americans are working on that, too. There is a difference, though. Well, several, all to do with the fact that the United States is a single country, a democracy with an accountable government and a clearly defined military structure.

The EU has none of the above: it has no democratic accountability, no single commander in chief, no line of command, no entity to which soldiers can swear an oath of allegiance. Nor has it any specific interests. In the place of all that, it tries to place structures and agreements.

Javier Solana has suggested and the others, presumably, nodded that ministers should take a decision to deploy forces within five days and for the troops to be there, fully deployed within ten days.

That, of course, assumes that there are troops to deploy. It also assumes that the member states and its legislatures will cheerfully accede to these ideas with no fear of political backlash at home.

As we have pointed out before, the proposed European Union Bill, put forward in the last Parliament in Britain, gave the Secretary of State (Foreign or Defence, presumably) extensive powers to push through decisions to do with the common foreign and security policy with no parliamentary debate. We shall have to see whether the new Bill will have the same provisions. And if there is no Bill for reasons to do with the French and Dutch referendums, whether those powers are introduced in some other way.

Mr Frieden seems to think that all member states will modify their national procedures to fall into line with EU practices, but he may find that it is easier to say that than to achieve it.

Meanwhile, according to the EUObserver:

“…Germany signed itself up to two more battle groups with France and Spain as well as with Poland, Slovakia, Lithuania and Latvia with the first to be ready in the second half of 2008 and the second during the first half of 2010.

A Nordic group - with Estonia, Finland, Sweden and non-EU members Iceland and Norway - was also formally given the go ahead on Monday and is expected to be up and running in 2008.”
Intriguing, as news comes of a separate development in Eastern Europe (what a problem those people are, to be sure).

On May 13 there was a ceremony in Lutsk, in Ukraine at which the Chairmen of the Polish, Lithuanian and Ukrainian parliaments, signed the founding declaration of an Inter-Parliamentary Assembly of the three countries.

Historically, those three have been linked for centuries and are closer to each other than they are to, let us say, Spain and Portugal. In the recent Ukrainian election crisis, it was Lithuania and Poland that took an active role, trying to sort matters out in a satisfactory way, while Solana ran around calling for peace and stability.

The idea of this Inter-Parliamentary Assembly grew out of those meetings.

The overriding purpose is to help Ukraine with its process of democratization and to bring it into NATO and the EU eventually (though, I suspect, that eventually is a very long way away).

There is something else though. According to the Eurasia Daily Monitor of the Jamestown Foundation
“Poland, Lithuania, and Ukraine are also close to fielding a tripartite peacekeeping battalion. It is an outgrowth of the existing bilateral Ukrainian-Polish and Lithuanian-Polish battalions (UkrPolbat, LitPolbat). On May 11 in Kyiv, Defense Ministers Anatoly Hrytsenko of Ukraine and Gediminas Kirkilas of Lithuania signed an agreement on joining with Poland to create the tripartite LitPolUkrbat.

Its first mission is planned to begin later this year in Kosovo, with Poland and Ukraine contributing 200 to 300 troops each, and Lithuania 140 troops, to the NATO-led, UN-mandated Kosovo Force (KFOR). Outside NATO's framework, it should be wholly realistic for LitPolUkrbat to consider participating in peacekeeping missions in Moldova and Georgia at these countries' request.”
Outside NATO they may be, but how does this fit with the common EU defence policy? NATO has never demanded that its members serve exclusively within its framework. The EU with a common policy will.

Will the troops simply be double-hatted? And who is putting together those peacekeeping missions in Moldova and Georgia? Should we not be told? Come to think of it, should Javier Solana not be told?