Today, the world faces numerous challenges: instability in the Middle East, terrorism, growing Russian influence in Western democracy and increasing cyberactivity that has the potential to cause significant harm. On many of these issues the world – or at least large part of it – speaks with one voice.

In Europe, cooperation hasn’t been stronger, with numerous action plans and initiatives aimed at helping nations to better come together at times of need. Many of the initiatives have been implemented under the EU Global Strategy, a new approach to foreign and security policy presented in June 2016.

At the time, the EU said, “Member states have shown increasing interest in stronger cooperation on European defence issues.

“Thus, the EU has identified and implemented concrete measures to strengthen the cooperation on security and defence through new structures and frameworks, enhanced oversight and coordination mechanisms.”

Since 2003, the EU has conducted numerous military and civilian operations. A total of 34 missions have been carried out across three continents. There are 16 ongoing today: ten civilian and six military. However, on the implementation of the EU Global Strategy framework, the organisation introduced a raft of new resources and options for future involvement, meaning further collaboration.

Joint projects

The largest of the new tools and programmes is the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO). Signed by 25 of the current 28 member states, PESCO is a vehicle to help “willing” nations in that group “pursue greater cooperation in defence and security”. The EU said all had agreed “to more binding commitments in the area of defence. Furthermore, participating member states developed projects working together in groups to enhance military training and exercises, jointly strengthen their capabilities on land, air and sea, but also, for example, in the ever more important cyberspace”.

Overseen by the PESCO Secretariat, the current members determine overall policy and which projects should be actioned. Once they are agreed, the members involved have the responsibility to manage these projects. There are currently 17 projects, many geared towards making it easier for groups of nations to cooperate in operations more effectively. They include the establishments of European Medical Command, developing a network of logistics hubs across Europe and improving military mobility. However, “none of these initiatives are standalone tools”, according to the EU.

“They are part of a coherent EU mechanism involving all relevant EU institutions and entities, including the European Defence Agency (EDA), as well as strong commitment and actions by the Member States to boost collaborative defence capability planning, development, procurement and operations”.

Promoting peace and guaranteeing the security of our citizens are our first priorities as [the] European Union.
– Federica Mogherini, EU vice-president

A European army?

Concerns have been raised by some about the potential for an EU army. However, the EU itself is keen to ensure this is a strategic partnership, or “defence union” as President Jean- Claude Juncker called it when he committed to establishing the project by 2025.A big aim of that union is to make it easier for military assets to be mobilised in times of need: conflict or humanitarian aid being the most likely.

In a recent press briefing, the European Commission said, “Facilitating the movement of military troops and assets is essential for the security of European citizens, and to build a more effective, responsive and joined-up union, as identified in the Joint Communication on improving military mobility in the EU in November 2017, and the report of the EU Global Strategy for Foreign and Security Policy.”

Those comments came at the announcement of an action plan that identifies a series of operational measures to tackle physical, procedural or regulatory barriers that hamper military mobility. “Working closely with the EU Member States and all relevant actors will be key for the implementation of this Action Plan,” added the briefing.

“Promoting peace and guaranteeing the security of our citizens are our first priorities as [the] EU,” remarked EU representative for foreign affairs and security policy, and vicepresident, Federica Mogherini.

“By facilitating military mobility within the EU, we can be more effective in preventing crises, more efficient in deploying our missions and quicker in reacting when challenges arise.

“It will be another step in deepening our cooperation at EU level, also in the framework of the permanent structured cooperation we have formally launched recently, and with our partners, starting with NATO. For us, the EU, cooperation remains the only way to be effective in today’s world.”

The action plan will build on the roadmap on military mobility developed in the framework of the EDA. Commisioner for transport Violeta Bulc highlighted the importance of establishing an infrastructure network for the modern era. “Our objective is to make better use of our transport network, to ensure that military needs are accounted for when planning infrastructure projects,” she said.

Cooperation and consultation

The commission went on to reassure the public – those who have criticised Juncker’s commitment – saying the plan would be implemented “in full respect of the sovereignty of member states over their national territory and national decision-making processes”.It also said PESCO and the military mobility aims would equally be ensured. “Coordination with efforts under PESCO, and the separate PESCO project on military mobility, will equally be ensured. Cooperation and consultation with NATO on issues of military mobility will be further pursued in the framework of the implementation of the joint declaration to ensure coherence and synergies,” it said.

In November 2017, the European Commission said it was increasing its efforts to improve military mobility right across the EU region.

“European citizens understand that only together, as a union, can we tackle the security challenges of our times. Cooperation inside the EU and with our partners has become a must. There is a growing demand for our member states to coordinate and work together on defence. So while we are moving forward with the permanent structured cooperation to make our defence more effective, we have also decided to further strengthen military mobility among EU member states and in cooperation with NATO,” Mogherini said.

Bulc added, “The EU has a modern transport network that serves the needs of Europeans. These needs can also be of a military nature.” She went on to talk of the importance of the ability to respond quickly. “[Obstacles] create inefficiencies in public spending, delays, disruptions and, above all, a greater vulnerability. It is high time we maximise civil and military synergies also through our transport network in an efficient and sustainable manner.”

[Obstacles] create inefficiencies in public spending, delays, disruptions and, above all, a greater vulnerability. It is high time we maximise civil and military synergies also through our transport network in an efficient and sustainable manner. – Violeta Bulc, EU commissioner for transport

Framework for communication

The joint communication set out a framework for how parties will facilitate and to help expedite military mobility, ranging from routine needs to strategic pre-deployment of military forces and resources. The EU says some of the most crucial factors in improving mobility across Europe include the needs to better understand exactly what it is that’s needed. That, it says, is a matter for member states to consider.

In addition to PESCO, the military planning and conduct capability was established. This “static, out-of-area command and control structure at the military strategic level” has taken on the responsibility for operation planning and the management of non-executive missions, replacing individual mission commanders.

“This approach is also a response to the demand by the majority of the almost 512 million EU citizens, who want more security, stability and a coordinated EU response to current threats,” says Mogherini. “This does not mean that we are heading towards an EU army or ‘common defence’. Member states remain sovereign when it comes to their defence and military decisions. But the EU will continue to add its value through promoting increased cooperation and coordination to reach the required new level of ambition in EU security and defence.”

Speaking in Florence at the European University Institute’s State of the Union in May 2018, Mogherini said the security issues faced by Europe were broad and only by working together could the continent develop the capabilities needed to protect citizens and build peace. Her speech was much more about the need to collaborate across the union, to work as one on training, procurement and finance, but it reflected the commitment to engage more widely. However, they are an expression of desire for European leaders to work together on defence and security, in Brussels and across the continent’s capital cities.

European Action Plan

The EU action plan comprises three elements, all aimed at improving military mobility across the EU and further afield:

  • Military requirements: This is the starting point for an effective and coordinated approach to military mobility across the EU. The European External Action Service (EEAS) and the EU Military Staff will develop military requirements, which reflect the needs of the EU and its member states, including the infrastructure needed for military mobility. The Council is invited to consider and validate those military requirements by mid-2018.
  • Transport infrastructure: Infrastructure policy and investments offer opportunities for more synergies between civilian and military needs. By 2019, the Commission will identify the parts of the trans-European transport network suitable for military transport, including necessary upgrades of existing infrastructure (e.g. the height or the weight capacity of bridges). A priority list of projects will be drawn up. The Commission will take into account possible additional financial support for these projects in the next multiannual financial framework.
  • Regulatory and procedural issues: The Commission will look at options to streamline and simplify customs formalities for military operations and assess the need to align rules for the transport of dangerous goods in the military domain. In parallel, the European Defence Agency will support Member States in developing arrangements on crossborder movement permissions.

Source: European Commission