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A European drone base in Algeria or Morocco. Reality or intox? (shift)

A Scout surveillance drone (credit: Airbus DS)
A Scout surveillance drone (credit: Airbus DS)

(BRUSSELS2) According to the Algerian press, which relays information from the New China agency, citing an Algerian diplomatic source, taken up without any verification by the Huffington Post (Le Monde group), Algeria would have “ refused a request from the European Union (EU) to host a base for drones intended to combat illegal migration in the Mediterranean Sea ". Oufti! as they would say in Liège… According to this same source, the European Union wanted “ establish a drone base in the coastal town of Aïn Temouchent, located 504 km west of Algiers ". The information is developed in an identical direction in the Moroccan neighbor. Probably not to be outdone. According to the Arabic-speaking daily Al Massae, as reported by the site, who are " the European Union led by Spain, Italy and France have proposed to Morocco the construction of a drone base on its soilL ". Goal : " block the way for illegal immigrants arriving on European soil, but (…) also serve to track down drug traffickers ". In the current context, is the information founded or even probable?

Assuming that such a request existed, it does not really concern the military operation in the Mediterranean. Because you have to look at a map: Aïn temouchent is located near Oran opposite Almeria in Spain. We are closer to Morocco than to Libya. And we are very, very far from the EUNAVFOR operation, the area of ​​operation of which should cover more or less the Italian rescue and relief zone as well as the Libyan zone (if the UN authorizes it).

Second, the EU does not have drones per se. These are those which would be made available by the Member States. And this capacity is sparsely counted to say the least, at least when we talk about long-endurance drones (MALE) which can be useful in maritime surveillance (*). It is only necessary to observe the French difficulties during the military operation in Mali or Niger. From an operational point of view, given the distance, one might wonder whether it would not be easier to set up a drone base in neighboring Spain rather than starting to negotiate an agreement to set up this base in a foreign country.

Finally, an EU operation is not set up that way. An agreement is required from the 28 member states, from the 28 ambassadors of the COPS. And until further notice, according to our information, such a plan has not been mentioned in these forums. Ditto for the military structures of the EEAS…

On the side of the European Commission, we deny such a project but in a rather unclear way to tell the truth. " The Commission is not aware of requests to Maghreb countries to build a starting base for drones which will be used to monitor boats carrying migrants and goods. I was assured (**). “The Commission has no such plans »

At the Frontex agency, we are more firm and clear: “ Frontex does not have operations in Algeria. And Frontex does not use drones in its operations assured one of his spokespersons at my request.

Comments : in this information, we must dissect the true from the false. Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria are among the countries with which Europeans want to have reinforced cooperation in terms of migration but also terrorism. And “terrorism” or “migration” attachés will soon come to support EU delegations (embassies) in the countries concerned. That these countries have been approached by European diplomats to seek cooperation in the fight against terrorism is certain; just like the fight against immigration. It is probable that these countries have also been approached by Member States, in particular Spain, for example, to track down migrant (and especially drug) networks. That discussions were held at a certain political level, no doubt. From there, to requesting the establishment of a drone base, there is a step that Europe does not seem ready to take.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

(*) we are talking here about observation drones and not armed drones.

(**) written answer to my question

(Maj) clarification from the Frontex agency

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).