Due to the specific status of armed forces and equipment, military mobility is legally bound by a range of national decisions and EU rules, but there is room for a more coordinated and harmonised approach which would maximise the EU-added value and build on civilian/military synergies.
With the Joint Communication, the European Commission and the High Representative are setting out how they will work to facilitate and to help expedite military mobility, ranging from routine needs to strategic pre-deployment of military forces and resources – all this will be done in full respect of the sovereignty of Member States, in synergy with civilian activities and without disrupting civilian use of infrastructure or unnecessary inconveniences. Any action will be coordinated not just between the EU and the Member States, but also with other relevant stakeholders, especially NATO.
Key lines of action for stepping up military mobility within the EU are:
- To develop a shared understanding of the needs and requirements, which will need to be further examined and agreed upon by the Member States.
- To develop a common understanding on the infrastructure to be used and its impact on the infrastructural standards.
- To address relevant regulatory and procedural issues (customs, dangerous goods, other legal barriers, national procedures).
By March 2018, the High Representative and the Commission will propose an Action Plan on Military Mobility for Member States' endorsement. This plan will suggest recommended actions, implementing actors and ambitious timelines on how to address identified barriers hampering military mobility in European territory, building on the results of the European Defence Agency's Ad Hoc Working Group on Military Mobility, established recently to provide expert input. Since the end of the Cold War, military movement in Europe – for example for major exercises – has become much less frequent. In today's security environment however, the European defence forces depend on the ability to move quickly, both in the EU as well as NATO context. Several initiatives are already helping to improve military mobility in the EU context: transport infrastructure is a good example of existing opportunities to increase the coherence and synergies between defence issues and existing Union policies. Member States are furthermore taking forward a number of projects in the framework of the European Defence Agency (e.g. the Multimodal Transport Hub project). The Joint Communication on improving military mobility is in line with the EU Global Strategy for Foreign and Security Policy as well as the principles that underpin the "defence package" proposed last year.
However, Mr. Apostolis Fotiadis, a journalist based in Athens reorting for "The Nation" reports videos of meetings of the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Security and Defense often show a bunch of bored MEPs listening to experts on military and security issues or to geopolitical analysts describing the “Mad Max” world beyond the EU’s borders. But when discussion does take place, it tends to follow the theme of existential threats to the European way of life: Islamist terrorism, Trumpian isolationism, and, especially for MEPs from Eastern European countries, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggressive anti-EU agenda and propaganda warfare. Hard facts seem to be a low priority when estimating the size of the military threat to Europe from the East. The European Institute for Security Studies reported that in 2016 the 28 EU member states invested a massive 206 billion euros on defense. France alone spent 43 billion euros, topping Russia’s figure of 42 billion euros. One of the few dissenting voices to this ambitious plan was that of Laetitia Sedou, the program officer of the European Network Against the Arms Trade, a modest umbrella group of European anti-militarization organizations. Before the EU’s 60th birthday party in Rome last March, she wrote to European Council President Donald Tusk, Juncker, and European heads of state, arguing that Europe “should remain a peaceful club of nations instead of contributing to a new arms race.” Sedou’s letter describes the wider militarization of all aspects of the EU budget. Besides the billions of euros the EDAP was proposing to syphon directly to the military industry, she wrote, the EU was working toward facilitating the access of arms producers to a range of EU funding opportunities, including structural funds, development aid intended to alleviate poverty, and even Erasmus, the EU program for education and training: “Already in January 2017 a call for proposals launched under Erasmus includes defence as one of six priority areas.” Even without the diversion of subsidies earmarked for peaceful purposes, if Juncker’s budget projections hold, the direct allocation of EU funds to military contractors and their homeland-security subsidiaries will have exploded from zero in 2004 to tens of billions of euros by 2020. The creation of a military-industrial complex is linked, by Euroskeptics and critical pro-EU interlocutors alike, to the potential creation of an EU army, a dream cherished by various EU politicians. But Sedou sees it more as an attempt to exploit unused industrial capacity. “An EU of defense is a political process,” she says, “while what the EC is proposing is a pure industrial process.” Juncker himself seems to think otherwise. In March 2015, he told the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag, “A joint EU army would show the world that there would never again be a war between EU countries. Such an army would also help us to form common foreign and security policies and allow Europe to take on responsibility in the world.” A European Commission source has admitted that deployability of EU armed forces is a policy priority. And once the capacity to fund and deploy EU forces has been established, a pretext for sending those forces into the field might not be far behind. In mid-May, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière and his Italian counterpart, Marco Minniti, were already asking for a mission to be set up “as soon as possible” between Libya and Niger to do what EU policy had failed to do in the central Mediterranean: Stop refugees and migrants from getting to Europe. On October 30, EU Foreign Affairs Commissioner Federica Mogherini indicated that joint EU battle groups, each consisting of 1,500 troops, may be deployed in UN missions in Africa. These battle groups could contribute to the new UN mission’s being demanded by several EU countries to combat the threat of terrorism in the Sahel region and take on smuggling networks there that capitalize on growing insecurity. If so, it would be the first time joint EU military forces have seen action anywhere in the world. The emergence of a military-industrial complex in conjunction with opportunities for the EU to go to war will inevitably have a profound impact on the future of the EU. In the words of Bodil Valero, “As an MEP from a non-NATO EU member state, I have to say that I do not want the EU to be transformed into a military alliance in charge of territorial defense. This would deeply change the Union’s character.”