The Bear's Lair

The EU keeps two battle groups on standby for six months at a time, and has done since January 2007. However, having been on standby for more than four years, the battle groups have the air of a solution looking for a problem.

The EU is often criticized for lacking a “hard” side to its common foreign and security policy. Brussels is still seen more as a “soft” or “civilian” power. However, there is a hard side to the EU’s foreign and security policy – its battle groups .

The two battle groups that the EU maintains are made up of a pooling of personnel from contributing countries, supplied on a rotational basis. The pool is made up of personnel from the countries’ existing forces and usually numbers around 1,500 (maybe more depending on the contributing countries).

The battlegroup groups were designed so that they could be rapidly deployed to a crisis anywhere in the world, within 5-10 days, following a unanimous decision from the Council of the European Union (i.e. the member states’ ministers). It sounds pretty impressive. And it is impressive, 27 sovereign national states have decided to pool their resources, with the aim of putting troops on the ground within an incredibly short period of time.

This can be seen as a considerable victory for those in favour of a common EU security policy – the battle groups were to a large extent designed to signal to the outside world that the EU is indeed capable of making a difference on the international scene, in both a “hard” and “soft” manner. One can be proud of the developments that have taken place within the EU’s common foreign and security policy over the past decade and one should be proud of the battle group concept as well.

So where have these battlegroups been deployed to date? Nowhere. They have never been used, not once, and have now been on stand-by for over four years. So if we imagine the battle groups as a new, big, powerful “drill” that the EU holds, where are the “screws”? There does not seem to be any challenge out there that EU is (politically) willing to take on.

So what would be a suitable virgin deployment for the EU’s battlegroups? Could there be a role for them in the current outbreak of instability in the Middle East and North Africa? If a crisis was to show up in the EU’s neighbourhood, could and would they get involved? It’s hard to say. At the moment though, the EU’s battle groups are in real danger of becoming a solution without a problem.

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  1. If the EU is ridiculed in the wider world due to its ‘soft’ image on military matters, then it only as itself to blame.
    Let me guess 2 battle groups expensively manned by Dutch, Spanish,Italians,Frech etc all polishing there boots and tanks with very little to do?? No gun will ever be fired, no tank will ever move.

    Brussels ,and the EU suffers from decision paralysis. MEPs,EU Council,Commission and EP could win gold medals when it comes to debating, but actually reaching a collective decision?? no, never, especially concerning any such military matters.

    Lets face it the EU is a toothless tiger with about as much bite as a granny with no dentures?

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