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EU Foreign Affairs Council (Defence)

Volume 542: debated on Thursday 22 March 2012

The EU Foreign Affairs Council will meet in defence formation on 22 March 2012 in Brussels. I will represent the UK.

We have yet to receive a detailed formal agenda. However, we expect current operations, military capability and partnerships to be discussed. In the morning session, the European Defence Agency will hold a steering board.

European Defence Agency Steering Board

Ministers will discuss pooling and sharing initiatives with a view to preparing deliverables for the NATO Chicago summit. The UK will continue to work with the agency and its member states to develop and improve the agency’s effectiveness and performance, but will urge the EDA to be realistic about its work programme and budgetary requirements. The steering board will be invited to agree the following action points:

Joint procurement initiative on common acquisition of EU battle group logistic support be established as a category B project;

Second joint investment programme on innovative concepts and emerging technologies (ICET 2);

Category B “Go Green” project; and

Mandate to establish negotiations for an administrative arrangement between the EDA and the Republic of Serbia.

While the UK is content that the agency develops work on EU battle group logistic support and ICET 2 and for other nations to participate, we will not be participating in these projects. We note the desire of the agency to move into the energy arena, as demonstrated by the “Go Green” proposal. However, the UK has no plans to participate in this project. The UK is fully supportive of an EU and NATO future for all western Balkan countries and therefore will support an administrative arrangement which enhances co-operation and opens dialogue between the EDA and the Republic of Serbia.

In addition to the action points, the steering board will be provided with an update of the pooling and sharing opportunities which have been developed by the EDA, which includes a request that Ministers agree to a political declaration on air-to-air refuelling (AAR) capabilities, and sign a declaration of intent for the establishment of multinational modular medical units (M3U).

Noting that there is a gap among other European nations in AAR capability and that the declaration on AAR is not for signature, is not legally binding, and carries no financial commitment, we are content to agree this agenda item. M3U has been identified as a critical shortfall in European nations capabilities, and it is the EDA’s intention to establish these units which should enhance and improve standards, procedures and inter-operability among member states. The UK does not wish to participate in the M3U project as the United Kingdom believes it duplicates activities currently being undertaken in NATO.

Foreign Affairs Council (Defence)

The three current EU operations, Operation Atalanta (counter-piracy). Operation Althea (Bosnia and Herzegovina) and EU training mission Somalia (military training mission) will be discussed in the Council with the respective Operation Commanders. I will be able to announce that the UK has cleared an extension to Operation Atalanta’s mandate through parliamentary scrutiny. Future common security and defence policy (CSDP) operations are also likely to be discussed, with a focus on the soon to be launched regional maritime capacity-building (RMCB) mission off the horn of Africa, but also including possible missions in the Sahel and Libya. Further to the Foreign Secretary’s agreement at the Foreign Affairs Council in December 2011 to the establishment of an operation centre specifically to co-ordinate the RCMB mission, a Council decision on the activation of the operations centre may be agreed. I also intend to indicate our support for ongoing operations. Finally, Ministers will discuss EU partnerships and how these can be enhanced during which I will emphasise the importance of improving EU-NATO relations.

Discussion on the US Strategic Defence Guidance

Discussions will focus on the changing strategic context, in particular the implications of US defence guidance and budget cuts for Europe and CSDP. The UK will continue to emphasise that European nations must invest their scarce resources in real military capability rather than wasteful institution building. It is also important to ensure that, wherever possible, military capability is inter-operable and coherent avoiding any duplication with NATO, which is and must remain the first and foremost pillar of European defence.