Blogging on Issues of International and European Security

A coherent EU Operational Headquarters?

A proposal from five of the EU’s G6  has called for plans for an EU military command centre to be drawn up, despite the reluctance of the UK. The recent letter from the foreign ministers of France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Poland to HR/VP Catherine Ashton, called for the “permanent planning and conduct capability” to advance. This, despite the absence of the UK’s commitment potentially weakening the concretisation of the entire project, if the EU’s second largest military capacity[1] remains to one side.

 Some experts and commentators point to the redundancy of an EU operational head quarters (OHQ), citing those already existing (although they are temporary) in Mons (NATO in BE), Mont Valérien (FR), Northwood (UK), Potsdam (DE), Rome (IT) and Larissa (GR).  The argument being, why replicate what already exists? However militarily, the status quo is not a professional set-up. Thus the point would be – under the spirit of the Lisbon Treaty – to permanently cohere EU actions, and for that a fresh start with all the capacities and people in the same place with a standing command structure, with planning and conduct capacity and with a military EU Operational Commander at the ready – is needed. In addition, to replace the current structure of the Civilian Conduct and Planning Capacity (CPCC) in the Crisis Management Planning Directorate (CMPD) in the European External Action Service (EEAS) and the military headquarters across the locations already mentioned, one location that combines the CMPD with both civilian and military headquarters could bode well for a bit more cohesiveness and communication. Some argue that this would also drive the EU towards one identity – rather than a combination of Member States – in its crisis response. Not to mention clarity for all those actors outside the EU (or more correctly, that do not follow EU Common Security and Defence Policy), to whom the EU structures and process are often a mystery.

The recent Libya crisis shows a political reason for need for the EU to have a solid planning basis for a military response with a permanent structure and forum for discussion and option papers. However, some EU Member States, such as the UK, remain a little belligerent to the European project, preferring to conduct its military operations through NATO or bilateral agreements. One such example is the strengthening of bilateral arrangements through the November 2010 defence agreement with France which includes, inter alia, developing a Combined Joint Expeditionary Force (CJEF) as a non-standing bilateral capability. Although seen by some as a move towards wider European defence co-ordination, a stronger move to such would be through EU channels and support.

The UK, whilst attracted to the EU as a trading bloc, has long been resistant to European political integration, with security and defence matters remaining a bastion of national sovereignty, although the UK does contribute ~240 personnel to CSDP missions (see Other challenges by Member States to an EU OHQ would be the question of the need for more personnel and hence budget. However, the counter-argument runs simply, in that why have 27 Member States with small staff of nationals separately having OHQs – which lack a capacity for multilateral international operations – when resources could be pooled.

Additional arguments against an EU OHQ, would be to rely on the Berlin Plus arrangement with NATO, but the limitations of such would be unlikely to change, and of course this bears the cross of the EU-non-NATO and NATO-non-EU member question.

Another factor emanating from the Arab Spring experience, is that it is clear the EU needs to develop its capacity for response, as the US is beginning to remove both its capabilities and credit card from global response to crises (see ISIS Senior Advisor Sarwar Kashmeri’s analysis on this here: Such capacity with an EU OHQ would mean quicker deployment of personnel pledged, liaison officers and who knows, finally use of the infamous EU Battlegroups.

If the pro-OHQ 5 find support for the proposal, HR/VP Ashton may have to respond with an option paper, and if this receives enough support as well as additional Member States joining the wagon (especially those six not in NATO), the UK may just have to jump on board to participate in steering forward the direction of an OHQ.

 See the EEAS organigramme here:

[1] The active military personnel of France and the UK numbered 228,000 and 194,930 respectively in 2010. In terms of military equipment in 2010, France possessed 1 aircraft carrier, 12 destroyers, 10 submarines, 342 fighters, 451 battle tanks and 300 nuclear warheads; the UK possessed 2 aircraft carriers, 7 destroyers, 12 submarines, 233 fighters, 345 battle tanks and 255 nuclear warheads (see, sources: IHS / Jane’s /Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists). France and the UK spent 2.7% and 2.5% of their GDP respectively on military expenditure in 2009 (see

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This entry was posted on 20/09/2011 by in Opinions and tagged .


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