Sep. 11, 2013 - By JULIAN HALE - Defense News
BRUSSELS — Options for deploying European Union battlegroups —the EU’s rapid-response forces — will be discussed during a series of meetings Sept. 25-26.
The battlegroup discussion comes ahead of a meeting of EU defense ministers in November and a summit of EU heads of state and government on defense matters in December.
EU battlegroups are military units that support the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). Member states contribute personnel and resources to the units, which comprise about 1,500 troops, on a rotating six-month basis. EU battlegroups have been on standby since 2007, but they have yet to be used. Currently, a British-led battlegroup is on standby with contributions from the Netherlands, Sweden, Latvia and Lithuania.
In a news release following an informal meeting of EU defense ministers in Vilnius, Lithuania, on Sept. 5-6, Lithuanian Defense Minister Juozas Olekas said his EU counterparts supported his view that the upcoming European Council — the December summit of EU heads of state and government on defense matters — should also address the future of EU battlegroups.
“We would like to get a strong political message in December to update the current level of ambition and commitment to use EU battlegroups,” Olekas said at the meeting. “We propose to use EU battlegroups in a more flexible way by using, for instance, only some part of the group in line with a crisis scenario.”
Lithuania’s defence policy director, Vaidotas Urbelis, told Defense News that various options from EU member states are being discussed ahead of the Nov. 19 meeting of defense ministers. The UK, Lithuania and Latvia, for example, suggest taking a modular approach, as they do not see EU battlegroups as a “closed box.”
“The idea is that, for a particular crisis, elements of a battlegroup could be used,” Urbelis said. “A standard battalion is made up of three infantry companies, but three infantry companies are not always needed if the EU is responding to a crisis. It could be a crisis needing just one company.”
On a separate issue, Lithuania’s Olekas, whose country currently holds the presidency of the EU, said that “the deterioration of the situation in our southern neighborhood clearly shows that the EU needs to enhance its role as a security provider. More active engagement of partners to the Common Security and Defence Policy should therefore be one of the solutions.
“We have received a clear message from our eastern partners that they are ready for more active engagement to CSDP by contributing their capabilities and expertise,” he said.
Olekas also welcomed the emphasis on the need for a debate about the EU’s changing strategic context, which was highlighted in the interim report on the CSDP by Catherine Ashton, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy.
“The changing security environment should drive and shape our security thinking and priorities, and the latter should be reflected in strategic documents,” he said. “I would compare strategic guidelines to GPS: Navigation system maps should be updated constantly along with the changing environment; otherwise, they would lead to wrong directions. And I therefore think that commitment by the European Council to begin updating of the current strategic guidelines would be just in time.”
The current EU Security Strategy was developed 10 years ago.
In an EU defense ministers’ session on the European defense industry, Olekas also pointed out the importance of the initiatives proposed by the European Commission that could allow drawing small and medium-sized companies into the commission’s support programs, giving them better conditions to operate in the European and international defense markets.