EU Battlegroups: The EU’s military rapid response to crises on hold

The 2016 Vesalius College International Affairs Capstone course focuses on EU-UN cooperation in Peacekeeping. Formalization and institutionalization of this partnership took place in the past years[1] to build common strategic and operational frameworks for crisis management, in order to speed crisis response actions and improve their effectiveness. However, the EU still seems reluctant to be involved in Peacekeeping activities, especially military crisis management. Moreover, while it has acknowledged the need to comprehensively and rapidly respond to critical situations, EU boots are still generally deployed on the ground in a limited and tardy fashion. This is an opportunity to look at the current EU means available in terms of military rapid response to crises, i.e. the EU Battlegroups. This article will expose their origin, purpose, challenges, and prospects for improvement.

The EU Battlegroups were created as a response to the Anglo-French St. Malo Summit (1998) and the Helsinki European Council (1999), which stressed the need for rapid and autonomous response in crisis management and assigned EU Member States to provide such capabilities. It was upon a joint initiative from France, Germany, and the United Kingdom that the EU Military Staff (EUMS) developed the concept of EU Battlegroups in 2004, and concluded a roadmap for its development in 2006. The original ambitious Anglo-French arrangements (up to 60,000 standby troops) were downsized, but the two countries still tacitly lead the project with now deeply opposing views[2]. The Battlegroups were established based on the model of Operation Artemis, a UN-authorized CSDP military mission deployed in DR Congo in 2003. It was the first EU-led operation of this kind, and was quite successful as it demonstrated the EU’s ability to conduct a small-scale operation outside of Europe, however it disclosed shortcomings in EU capabilities. This awareness recalled the need to formalize integration of EU military capabilities, and led to the creation of the so-called “EU BGs”.

The objective of the EU Battlegroups is to contribute to the EU’s external action’s coherence, activeness, and capability by developing European expeditionary capabilities through small, rapid, mobile, self-sustainable, and high-readiness forces for crisis response. They are made of 1500 standby personnel provided by two groups of voluntary countries that rotate every years. Among them are the famous “Visegrád Battlegroup” (Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Ukraine) – currently in charge – and “Nordic Battlegroup” (Sweden, Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Ireland). They are meant to be deployed within fifteen days, for a period of 30 to 120 days, upon request from the UN Security Council and following the CSDP decision-making procedure (i.e. consensus). They are designed to provide “robust peacekeeping” alongside civilian assets and to mutually reinforce NATO and UN rapid response mechanisms, as part of the EU’s comprehensive approach to conflict and crises. They thus aim to enhance military cooperation between Member States[3], accelerate and synchronize the decision-making process, and increase strategic capabilities. The EU Battlegroups’ structures are based on the Member States’ offers made at the Battlegroup Coordination Conference (BGCC) every six months, and are thus quite flexible and open to specialization[4]. Some standards nonetheless exist, in terms of training, certification procedure, as well as command and control.

The challenges related to EU Battlegroups reside in their viability. Indeed, while they have been operational since January 1, 2007, they have never been used so far. Their difficult use is induced by financial constraints, diverging interests of Member States, and lacking agreement between Member States[5]. As a result, the EU Battlegroups miss their core elements: rapidness and operation. Indeed, the voluntary basis of this enterprise makes it dependent on the Member States’ commitment, which is influenced by national budgets, interests for specific crises, and foreign relations preferences. Therefore, countries might be reluctant to make voluntary contributions (or use force, in the case of Germany), and the Battlegroups in place might not be suited to effectively tackle the current issues.

Opportunities for improvement of the EU Battlegroups thus firstly relates to Member States’ willingness to contribute to this project. A different funding system could benefit the Battlegroups, which are currently suffering from an inconvenient funding arrangement that completely differs from the UN financing system. Higher contributions through the ATHENA mechanism (so far limited and subject to approval) or through the EU common budget could be considered to increase Member States’ willingness to invest in such a project[6]. Secondly, the flexibility of the EU Battlegroups should be extended to Member States’ commitment to specific crises. The national concerns of contributors should be extended by means of more comprehensive and tailored analyses of the concerned crises, diversified specializations of the Battlegroups, and clearer definitions of the required capabilities and advanced planning[7]. This would encourage and reassure Member States to provide capabilities for crises outside of their usual interests. Finally, more regular coordination between countries and with other rapid response frameworks (e.g. NATO, UN) in the fields of training, evaluation, and certification would improve the Battlegroups’ effectiveness and facilitate agreement between Member States[8].

Twelve years after their creation, the EU Battlegroups are still on hold. Their fundamental objectives of advancing military cooperation, rapidness of deployment, synchronization between Member States and with external actors, and capabilities of EU Member States (and beyond), are hindered by financial constraints, diverging interests, and disagreement between Member States. Prospects for improvement therefore lie in the possibility of an alternative funding system, a flexible approach to national interests, and enhanced coordination between Member States and with external actors.

 

Sophie L. Vériter

 


[1] See main documents: Joint Declaration on EU-UN cooperation in Crisis Management (2003), Joint Statement on EU-UN cooperation in Crisis Management (2007), Plan of Action to enhance EU CSDP support to UN Peacekeeping (2012), and Strengthening the EU-UN strategic partnership on Peacekeeping and Crisis Management (2015).

[2] In late 2013, The EU BG led by the United Kingdom refused to be deployed in the Central African Republic to support French intervention. Indeed, while France is promoting integration of European defense, the UK is known to have grown Euroskeptic in many different circumstances including defense.

[3] EU Battlegroups are however open to contributions from third parties.

[4] For instance, Lithuania has a water purification unit, and Cyprus has medical group.

[5] Reykers, Yf, “Hurry up and wait: EU Battlegroups and a UN Rapid Reaction Force”, Global Peace Operations Review, January 20, 2016. Web. Accessed February 9, 2016. http://peaceoperationsreview.org/thematic-essays/hurry-up-and-wait-eu-battlegroups-and-a-un-rapid-reaction-force/; Onyszkiewicz, Janusz, “Finding a use for the European Union Battle Groups”, Security Europe, Europe’s World, October 18, 2015. Web. Accessed February 9, 2016. http://europesworld.org/2015/10/28/finding-use-european-union-battle-groups-2/#.Vrmw5DZhSu4

[6] Barcikowska, Anna, “EU Battlegroups – ready to go?”, Brief Issue n°40, European Union Institute for Security Studies, November 2013. Web. Accessed February 9, 2016. http://www.iss.europa.eu/uploads/media/Brief_40_EU_Battlegroups.pdf; Onyszkiewicz, Janusz, “Finding a use for the European Union Battle Groups”, Security Europe, Europe’s World, October 18, 2015. Web. Accessed February 9, 2016. http://europesworld.org/2015/10/28/finding-use-european-union-battle-groups-2/#.Vrmw5DZhSu4

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

 

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Barcikowska, Anna, “EU Battlegroups – ready to go?”, Brief Issue n°40, European Union Institute for Security Studies, November 2013. Web. Accessed February 9, 2016. http://www.iss.europa.eu/uploads/media/Brief_40_EU_Battlegroups.pdf

“Common Security and Defence Policy: EU Battlegroups”, European Union External Action, April 2013. Web. Accessed February 9, 2016. https://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/en/esdp/91624.pdf

Dempsey, Judy, “The depressing Saga of Europe’s Battle Groups”, Judy Dempsey’s Strategic Europe, Carnegie Europe, December 19, 2013. Web. Accessed February 9, 2016. http://carnegieeurope.eu/strategiceurope/?fa=53975

Onyszkiewicz, Janusz, “Finding a use for the European Union Battle Groups”, Security Europe, Europe’s World, October 18, 2015. Web. Accessed February 9, 2016. http://europesworld.org/2015/10/28/finding-use-european-union-battle-groups-2/#.Vrmw5DZhSu4

Reykers, Yf, “Hurry up and wait: EU Battlegroups and a UN Rapid Reaction Force”, Global Peace Operations Review, January 20, 2016. Web. Accessed February 9, 2016. http://peaceoperationsreview.org/thematic-essays/hurry-up-and-wait-eu-battlegroups-and-a-un-rapid-reaction-force/

 

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