The EU Foreign Affairs Council met in Defence Ministers formation on 22 March in Brussels. I represented the UK.
The agenda items covered were current and future operations, a discussion on the changing strategic context in light of the recently issued US Strategic Defence Guidance and a European Defence Agency (EDA) steering board.
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) were discussed in the Council.
I was pleased to announce that the UK, as a reflection of our strong political support for the executive mandate in Bosnia and Herzegovina, intended to contribute a Company (approximately 120 troops) to the Operation AUFHEA Intermediate Regional Reserve from mid-December 2012 for a period of at least six months. This contribution to the reconfigured EUFOR Operation, which will not start until after the Olympic and Paralympic games, will demonstrate the UK’s commitment to the maintenance of EUFOR’s executive mandate to help maintain a safe and secure environment in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The company will be held in the UK at an appropriate degree of readiness and would only deploy on operations if called forward by the Operation Commander.
Council conclusions on the pooling and sharing of military capabilities were agreed in the Foreign Affairs Council (Defence). These can be found at:
Discussion on changing Strategic Context
The discussion focused on the changing strategic context, in particular, the implications of new US strategic defence guidance and their shift in focus to the Middle-East and Asia-Pacific.
The European Defence Agency Steering Board
An EDA steering board at Defence Ministers level was held immediately before the Foreign Affairs Council (Defence). The steering board agreed the following action points:
Joint procurement initiative on common acquisition of EU battle group logistic support be established as a Cat 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.
Whilst the UK does not oppose these projects we will not participate ourselves. We are fully supportive of the mandate to establish negotiations for an administrative arrangement between the EDA and the Republic of Serbia.
Finally, in addition to these action points, the steering board was requested to 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 one of the key lessons learnt from operations in Libya is that there is a gap among other European nations in AAR capabilities and that the declaration on AAR was not for signature, is not legally binding and carries no financial commitment, I agreed this declaration. With regard to M3U, it 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 interoperability among member states. The UK does not wish to participate in the M3U project, as we believe it duplicates activities currently being undertaken in NATO.