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The EU Battle Groups

Roger Cole

An EU Defence policy was not an issue for a long time and it was not until the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 that common foreign and defence policy provisions were made part of EU law. The Amsterdam Treaty in 1997 massively expanded the EU’s CFSP (Common Foreign and Security Policy) . In June 1999 the EU established the Political and Security Committee (PSC) consisting of the member states’ ambassadors to the EU and the European Union, and the Military Committee consisting of the member states’ chiefs of defence staff to advise the PSC on military issues. The EU Military staff also provides military advice.

In December 1999 the EU agreed to set a military capability target known as the Helsinki Headline Goal. It included the establishment of an EU Rapid Reaction Force (RRF)  of 50-60,000 soldiers with a self-sustaining military capacity including intelligence, air, naval and combat support capable of deployment within 60 days up to 6,000 km from the borders of the EU, sustainable for at least a year. The EU states in practice lacked the capability to do so. They did not have enough soldiers trained for such an independent EU military activity, as most were allocated to NATO. The EU RRF also lacked the necessary strategic lift, attack helicopters, IRS-capabilities, air-to-air refueling tankers, airborne electronic warfare capacity and anti-missile defence. Nevertheless in December 2001 the EU declared itself to be "militarily operational".

However since the RRF was not actually functioning they agreed to start with a smaller military force. The idea of EU Battle Groups was first suggested at the Franco-British Summit in Le Touquet in February 2003 and made explicit in the London meeting in November 2003.

The EU Defence Ministers in their meeting in Brussels in 2004 adopted the decision. They will act as the "shock troops", regiments of the emerging Empire. Thirteen Battle Groups are being created with 1,500 combat soldiers each, which means, allowing for rotation, etc, at an average ratio of seven to nine for each combat soldier, a total force of approximately 156,000 combat soldiers. It is planned that they could operate as separate units or in joint expeditions.

The objective was to ensure that the first few would be ready by 2005 and between 6 and 7 by 2007 with the remainder established by 2010. General Wolfgang Schneiderhan is Chair of the EU Military Committee with direct military responsibility for the EU Battle Groups.

Initially each Battle Group would have to be able to go to a theatre of operations up to at least 6,000 km (which includes the Middle East) from the borders of the EU within 5 days of being instructed to do so by the EU Council, and be able to stay there for at least 120 days, allowing for rotation. More recently they have been given the authority to operate in any part of the globe. They have to be able to operate in hostile environments including deserts, mountains and jungles, and have a high degree of training, equipment, command structures and planning units.

An EU Battle Group is to be "the minimum military effective, credible, rapidly deployable, coherent force package capable of acting alone, or for the initial phase of larger operations."

A Battle Group consists of the following:

  • Force Headquarters

  • Force Commander with staff

  • Mechanised Infantry Battalion

  • Commander with staff

  • 3 x Mechanised Infantry Company

  • Logistics Company

  • Fire Support Company (Mortars/Light Artillery)

  • Combat Engineering Platoon

  • Air Defence Platoon

  • Reconnaissance

  • Intelligence Platoon

  • Helicopter Support Unit

  • Medical Service Platoon

  • Military Police Platoon

Each of the three or four mechanized infantry companies is expected to field 10-12 combat vehicles armed with 30- 90mm cannons, supported with 6-9 light howitzers or 120 mm heavy mortar systems, anti-tank missiles, air defence systems, and helicopter gunships.

Airlifting a Battle Group is a major problem as it requires a huge expenditure on the military transport aircraft required, such as the C-17 Globemaster which can load 78 metric tonnes and has a 5,000 km range, therefore only requiring 30 flights to deploy an EU Battle Group. The lack of strategic airlift has meant several EU states have ordered the A- 400M. Several EU states which are in NATO have also agreed to buy AN-124 Condor aircraft from the Ukraine which are massive planes capable of carrying 120-150 tonnes of cargo up to 5,000 km. These are very expensive planes.

The purpose of the EU Battle Groups is to go into battle, to go to war, as Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, Secretary General of NATO has said:
"Battle Groups could be used to go to war. Why did the EU create the Battle Group?
It is not just to help rebuild a country. The Battle Groups are not for building schools.
We shouldn’t think the EU is for soft power and NATO for tough power."
Irish Times 11/3/05

The states of the EU, either individually or in groups, are to provide the necessary combat trained troops and required equipment and they are:

  1. France

  2. Italy

  3. Spain

  4. UK and possibly Ireland

  5. France, Germany, Belgium, Luxemburg, and Spain

  6. France and Belgium

  7. Germany, the Netherlands and Finland

  8. Germany, the Czech Republic and Austria

  9. Italy, Hungary and Slovenia

  10. Poland, Germany, Slovakia, Latvia, and Lithuania

  11. Italy, Spain, Greece and Portugal

  12. Sweden, Finland, Norway, Estonia and Ireland

  13. UK and the Netherlands

In the case of Battle Groups in which a number of states participated, one state would be regarded as a "lead nation" which would take operational command and provide the Headquarters of the Battle Group. Membership of the Battle Groups would be open to non-EU NATO countries such as Turkey that are applying for EU membership or NATO states.

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