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The Battlegroup Flexibility Discussion Will Continue

(BRUSSELS2 / In Gothenburg) At the end of the first discussions which took place during part of the afternoon at the informal meeting of the 27 EU Defense Ministers, in Gothenburg, the Swede Sten Tolgfors, who chaired the meeting, seemed less sure of himself than at the start of the meeting on the more flexible use of the EU's rapid reaction force (the battlegroups). “ Some are to increase flexibility. Others are more in favor of remaining with the current system. I recognize that there are difficulties. But we had to start the discussion.”


It seems to be stuck anyway. Firstly on flexibility. Everyone can hear this word differently. For Polish Defense Minister Bogdan Klich, for example, this means being able to use these forces for territorial defense. For others, it is an anticipatory force for ongoing operations (before force generation). Some also fear that by making it too flexible, battlegroups will be more employed, therefore costing everyone more. And there comes another reluctance: that of financing. Part of the battlegroup's costs are, in fact, pooled. Each State could therefore be required to contribute to an operation that it does not want and where it considers that it cannot be useful. The risk is also operational. The danger of drawing on the battlegroup for different missions could “unravel” it. And the EU would then no longer have a rapid reaction force. The Minister is well aware of these reluctances and all the questions that arise. He admits it half-heartedly.

The discussion continues

« We just wanted to start the conversation – he assures. “We clearly see as the discussions progress that there are a series of questions that need to be answered. For example, if we send a battlegroup, what do we do after these 4 months (for example) of presence on site. What and who do we replace it with? ". So… “The discussion will continue – that was our goal: to open the discussion”. The subject will be debated again at the formal meeting of the jumbo council of foreign and defense ministers in November.. “And the Spanish presidency (in the 1st half of 2010) confirmed to us that she intended to continue this discussion. And the Minister to justify: “We don’t want to change the system. We are not changing the concept of Battlegroups. What we are advocating is just a little more flexibility, on a voluntary basis. Everyone will be free to use their flexibilities or not. But we must move forward” he says, remembering the example of Chad.

The Swedish “trauma” of Chad. “When the EU took the decision to carry out a rapid military intervention in Chad (in 2007), it was difficult to assemble the units that were to be sent there. While at the same time we had two tactical groups “on hand” totally ready to intervene.” he explained the Minister. Including the Nordic battlegroup, super-trained, and in which Sweden (like the other Nordic countries had invested and bet a lot). “In this type of situation, one possibility would be to be able to “borrow” a battle group.” In 2011, a new Nordic battlegroup will be operational (read here). And the Minister does not want him to stay in the barracks if the conditions are really right. “I have to motivate my taxpayers to maintain these Battlegroups. It cost a billion Swedish crowns to set up this battlegroup (100 million euros),” he assures.

(Nb: in Sweden, the social democrats are calling the government to account for this use. Hence the omnipresence in the Minister's speech on several occasions of this notion of the use of Battlegroups.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

Read also: The Swedish idea of ​​modulating battlegroups

Battlegroups: “a concept is good, using them is better” says the EU presidency

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).

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