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Stabilizing Africa… Has impossible become a European axiom?

  • A legal opinion from the Commission is like a fire drill in a submarine, a perilous exercise (credit: Italian Navy)
    A legal opinion from the Commission is like a fire drill in a submarine, a dangerous exercise (credit: Italian Navy)

(B2) When you pass a Minister of Defense at the bend of a corridor, and you pronounce the four letters CBSD, there is a good chance that even the most phlegmatic of them will come off his hinges. Rightly so…

  • CBSD? The acronym may seem rather barbaric. And even developed — Capacity Building in Support of Security and Development — it doesn't really seem to mean anything more. That’s the objective anyway. Europe generally loves these acronyms which mean nothing in French (as in English for that matter). This allows for all compromises and meanings. The issue, however, is very concrete. How can Europe get involved, particularly in Africa, to stabilize the armies of countries, train and equip them so that they are in a position to themselves ensure the security and stabilization of their country? What equipment to finance? Under what conditions? NB: previously we were talking about “Train & Equip” which, even without translation, was still much more understandable.

More than two years and still nothing...

On several occasions, Heads of State and Government, EU Foreign Ministers and their defense colleagues have asked the Commission and the High Representative of the EU to move forward in this direction. In December 2013, in June 2015, in November 2015… Each time, the message was repeated. Since then... things have progressed at the pace of the turtle. A 'communication' was published a year ago, outlining some options. A consultation was just launched a few days ago (after a year!). A proposal is promised for June… which everyone fears will not really address the problem. And it will still take a few months (optimistic vision) or… a few years (pessimistic vision) to have an applicable decision. Result: a “ feeling of frustration » expressed, very diplomatically by the High Representative of the EU, Federica Mogherini, to the press, which reflects the irritation behind the scenes (Read: CBSD… A certain feeling of frustration (Mogherini).

A need for stability recognized by all

However, the observation is unanimous today. Without security in African countries, without stabilization, there will be no development, no economy. Without security, without development and economy, the population is tempted to flee the country. The stabilization of African countries is therefore not a sweet dream of a better world. It has today become a necessity for Europe. All member states agree on this point. Almost unanimously. Everyone is aware that the national level is not enough and that the solution must be found at the European level. A point of view shared by the population. In the polls, when we talk about stabilization, defense, foreign policy, the answer is the majority... for Europe. It's rather rare! And it must be emphasized.

A paradigm shift

The president of the EU military committee, Greek general Mickael Kostarakos, says it clearly: defense is no longer about making our borders airtight, it is about allowing other countries in the neighborhood and further afield to ensure their stability. This is the strategic issue of the moment. “ We need this instrument quickly ". " To have 20.000 euros to buy pens, pencils, a board for the military, I must complete the same procedures as for projects worth several million euros explains this high-ranking European.

Everything but weapons

The principle is also clear: there is no question of delivering weapons. This is not the karma of the European Union. That's not his goal. But we must equip African armies with radios, vehicles and bulletproof vests. Build barracks, provide uniforms, have mine clearance tools, etc. is vital to have an army which is not tempted to ransom the population or simply to " go home " (= to desert) “ to go eat because there is no canteen on site ».

So why is it blocking?

The file is not blocked at the political level. On the contrary. The High Representative of the EU, Federica Mogherini, took up the matter. The President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, is also at the forefront. But... the corridor war rages. This is the luxury of the Commission. All it takes is one or two people, their finger on the seam of a dusty Treaty of Rome, or a war of war. And that is enough to delay the case.

What do the “Taliban” say about the Commission?

What we call — even internally — the “Taliban” of the Commission are at work. The in-house “jurist” who produced a legal opinion on the CBSD is worth the detour. We were able to read this review. It is an artistic masterpiece of obstruction. The objective pursued by its author does not seem to have wanted to seek the means to implement a political decision, by giving the “possible” and “impossible” paths. It's about defending an opinion and having the arguments to demonstrate it (see box). The reasoning is circular: it is prohibited… because it is prohibited. This reasoning is not shared by other (equally eminent) jurists: those from the European diplomatic service and the Council of the EU thus display a slightly less conservative vision of the law (Read: Equipping African armies, a more dynamic legal opinion *).

A European bubble of happiness

This position illustrates one of Europe's current problems. The European administration has intelligent, dedicated agents, etc. But its operation is still too often in silos. What happens on another floor or in a building a few streets away is of little interest (1). And what happens outside the “bubble” of the European administration is, even more, a detail. Caught in an administrative rhythm, the procedure has taken precedence over substance, over politics. Unit heads and administrators are no longer there to think, they are there to apply processes, processes... whose foundations we no longer really remember. “ The Commission seems to live in a bubble, business as usual confided to me with accuracy, recently, a diplomat, a good observer of the European world.

The word “military” is a bad word

And, there is a cultural problem that we need to be aware of. For some, the terms “defense”, “security”, “military” are still dirty words (2). The time still seems to be for the production of directives, beautiful from every angle, and for a foreign policy where Europe would be the perfect good conscience, bringing good where evil exists. Missionaries in a way.

Europe under pressure must move up a gear

However, questions of security and defense have today become prominent and impose another agenda, another reasoning, another culture. Europe is currently living under double pressure — external and internal. And deconstruction threatens… from below. “ Under the effect of the economic crisis but especially the migration crisis, European sentiment is fading among our populations » continued my interlocutor (3). In other words, there is no point in drafting all the standard directives or regulations if the neighborhood continues to go badly, and the flow of migrants resumes as in the summer of 2015. We must move up a gear in terms of stabilization .

Act and act fast!

The time when Europe could move forward imperturbably seems to be over. We are no longer in 1956, at the beginning of Europe, nor in 1986 at the glory moment of the single market, nor at the establishment of the Euro in 1999. We must adapt… and quickly! It's up to everyone to take responsibility. The President of the Commission and the European Commissioners must decide. Either they believe that this request is justified, that there are certainly problems but that they must be resolved. And they are accelerating the train, banging their fists on the table if necessary, and making an “ambitious” proposal from June. Either they believe that there is doubt about the legal feasibility. And, in this case, it is the European Court of Justice which should be contacted to give an opinion, perhaps more serious… But we cannot leave a machine blocked by a contested and questionable legal opinion.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)


A questionable legal opinion

For the Commission's lawyer, the ban on financing by the European budget of CSDP military operations provided for in Article 41.2 (in the CFSP chapter) makes any financing of the CBSD impossible. An interpretation that is open to criticism from more than one point of view.

1° This opinion transforms a ban provided for in a specific framework - political, historical and legal - into a general ban on financing the delivery of equipment to the military, even non-lethal.

2° The text cited in the analysis is truncated, to bring the objective element into the analysis (and not the opposite). The author of the note explains as follows: “ it is not possible to use the Union budget for expenditure relating to operations with military implications ". Point ! However, article 41.2 is a little more complete and allows us to better situate the context.

Read, it's not much different! “ The administrative expenditure entailed for the institutions by the implementation of this chapter (NB: the chapter on the common foreign and security policy) are borne by the Union budget. Operational expenditure entailed by the implementation of this Chapter shall also be borne by the Union budget, with the exception of expenditure relating to operations having military implications or in the field of defense and cases where the Council unanimously decides otherwise.”

It doesn't quite have the same meaning. Because we find ourselves in an exception to the principle (= financing by the community budget of the CFSP) which must therefore be assessed more strictly.

3° The historical and political context of this rule is passed over in silence. This rule was designed to establish a distinction between civil and military CSDP operations carried out directly by the EU: the financing of the former follows the community budget, the financing of the latter follows intergovernmental financing. Basically, it was a question of prohibiting the financing of salaries and equipment of European armies engaged in operations through the European budget (the word is repeated several times). Which is not the case with CBSD. It is not a question of financing European soldiers in operations but of providing equipment and stabilization materials to non-European forces.

4° Finally, the reality principle seems forgotten. And the hypocrisy of it all. The European Union is already financing projects with military and security implications of the same type as the CBSD in Africa... as in Europe. This is the case with the financing by the Stability Instrument of certain security actions (we will finance vehicles and radios for law enforcement forces, such as the police and gendarmerie, but for the military!). The African Peace Facility ensures the payment of the salaries of the armies of the African Union. It is true that honor is safe: we do not directly finance salaries, this money comes from the community budget which passes through the European Development Fund, then through the African Union which then distributes them (but it is indeed of a Commission decision with European funding, which is directed in a specific direction). In Europe, certain Member States have even succeeded, under regional funds, in obtaining funding to facilitate access to their military bases (eg Czech Republic for the anti-missile base). This is not more (even less) than the defenders of the CBSD are demanding.


(1) If only to bring together all the general directorates concerned around a subject, “hybrid threats”, and for them to be willing to work together, it took several months of persuasion and one or two calls. fist on the table of the President of the Commission and his cabinet, so that the work can move forward...

(2) Just over a year ago, just before Charlie Hebdo, B2 was answered by an official, apparently unfamiliar with public procurement directives, arms exports, sanctions procedures, embargoes, etc. . that “the Commission does not deal with defense or security issues”…

(3) Several governments are today weakened by the migration crisis, particularly in the Balkans: in Austria, Croatia, Greece, Slovenia... in particular - not counting Spain (still without a government), and the United Kingdom (where David Cameron is in an ejection seat if Brexit passes).

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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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