Blog AnalysisEU Defense (Doctrine)

How to move forward with the idea of ​​a permanent HQ

(BRUSSELS2 / Opinion) The progress of the PeSDC has often blocked certain specific points, which are always the same. On the permanent European headquarters (HQ) in particular. However, it is a necessity. Carrying out 24 civil and military missions without having a permanent HQ is not really reasonable or serious! Perhaps today is the time to regenerate the debate, if necessary by thinking of alternative, scalable solutions.

Why is a HQ, as close as possible to the center, and above all permanent, necessary?

The advantage of an operations HQ is to be sufficiently close to the political and financial decision-making center. Geographical proximity allows us to be as reactive as possible, to be able to share analyzes and exchanges more easily with key political leaders (many of whom come to Brussels), in short to already be in the decision-making loop.

Using NATO HQ is a bad idea

Thinking that NATO HQ can serve the EU at the same time is not a very serious idea. The Berlin Plus system is now moribund (Jamie Shea recognized this recently (1)). No more operations have been launched under its aegis since 2005 (with the handover between NATO and the EU in Bosnia-Herzegovina). And apart from Kosovo (with an identical transition from KFOR to an EU mission), no terrain lends itself to an identical evolution. Not so much because there is competition between the two organizations. But because they are different in their composition and in their nature. They do not have the same philosophy or the same political approach to a conflict, even if they can use common means.

Asking the question whether an EU HQ will duplicate that of NATO is a false excuse and as incongruous as asking whether there is no need to have only one Council of Ministers. of Foreign Affairs for both organizations or a single general secretariat. It would not occur to anyone… Likewise, it would not occur to anyone that NATO does not have a HQ. And that it was set up temporarily, hastily, with the means at hand, and willing countries.

Specific tasks

The EU now has tasks of its own that are not fulfilled by NATO – which require a headquarters based close to the center of political decision-making (the High Representative and the Foreign Ministers) as well as democratic control ( the European Parliament).

The current device is DIY

The system of outlying HQs in Potsdam (for Congo), Paris (for Chad), London (for Eunavfor) is not showing its full effectiveness. This is without taking into account the difficulty that exists in filling positions – the national forces are not always in a hurry to fill staff positions, all the more so when the operation lasts... (in the Eunavfor operation, at least one quarter of the positions were not filled for many months).

In the absence of a permanent military HQ, alternative ideas

If a permanent military HQ is not possible, several alternative solutions can be built. For example :

1. Bring back the number of national HQs two: Paris and London, by specializing them, one for maritime operations, the other for African land operations (for example). The operation HQs of Larissa, Rome, Potsdam seem too far away to fulfill a function.

2. Create a Belgian HQ in Brussels. Nothing would perhaps prevent the Belgian army from requesting the qualification of a national command center to carry out EU operations. This would add a sixth command center. It would not officially be the European HQ dreamed of (last) in 2003. But it would avoid the disadvantages of other operation HQs. As Belgium prepares (in July) to take over the presidency of the EU, this would be a great achievement under its belt. This solution can be combined with the previous one. We would then have a Paris-London-Brussels axis where the disadvantage of distance would be compensated by the fast connections between the 3 cities (by multi-daily TGV connection).

3. Create a Franco-German HQ in Strasbourg within Eurocorps – which would merge the Potsdam and Paris HQs.

4. Set up a reinforced civilian HQ in Brussels, a civil-military HQ of sorts, which would be responsible for supporting and leading civilian defense missions. Whatever one may say, very often, it is military means – at least for transport and telecommunications – which are required for many PeSDC missions. This General Staff would have the task of leading not only civilian missions, but also civil protection and citizen evacuation missions; the latter two missions involving military means. Military missions would remain controlled with a (rotating) military staff. Logically, in this solution, the military General Staff could combine with the CPCC and the MIC, and would become civil-military. Which would be logical with the parallel merger of planning within the CPMD. Difficulties are bound to arise. But there are important similarities: the obligations that weigh on civilians in such defense missions are the same (obligation of confidentiality, sense of diplomacy, risky situation, etc.) as those that weigh on military missions proper. The logistical means are sometimes identical. And the number of certain civilian missions (Afghanistan, Georgia, Kosovo) is such that it is close to military missions.

(1) For Jamie Shea (NATO), we must move towards a “Berlin + Civil” agreement with the EU

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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