Blog AnalysisMissions Operations

Brexit already underway in European defense policy

(B2 - exclusive) Never mind the commotions at Westminster and the torments of Downing Street, or the seatless conduct of Prince Philippe, in the field of stabilization operations carried out by the European Union (under the CSDP), the departure of the British is now well underway and should end soon

HMS Northumberland near the Arctic Circle (credit: MOD Uk / Crown copyright)

A committed movement

The transfer of the HQ of the anti-piracy operation

First concerned, the most emblematic, the EU anti-piracy operation (alias EUNAVFOR Atalanta) will move from Northwood (near London) to Rota and Brest, the British commander giving way to the Spanish commander with a second French. The HQ of La Rota is in full preparation, the secondary HQ of Brest - which hosts the liaison with the merchant navy - also. The officers began to return to their posts. The “tiling” is in progress, according to our information (read: Trafalgar's revenge).

The change of command in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Second concerned, the EUFOR Althea operation in Bosnia-Herzegovina. More discreet, after having been the flagship operation (of NATO under the name IFOR) and of the European Union, it now only brings together a maximum of 600 men. It is no less important because it is an important "observation post" for what is happening in the Balkans, particularly in terms of the return of foreign fighters. A Frenchman will take the lead of the operation, from NATO HQ in Mons (SHAPE). A small core of French people is also planned in Sarajevo within the force's headquarters (read: The return of France to the EU operation in Bosnia and Herzegovina).

The abandonment of a number 2 position in Somalia

Finally, within the EUCAP Somalia civilian mission responsible for advising and training Somalis on maritime security, the number 2 post held by a Briton is in the process of changing hands, according to our information. The British could not provide a command post for European operations.

Withdrawal from the battlegroup schedule

Similarly, in terms of the EU's rapid reaction force, the British withdrew from the on-call duty of the battlegroups (read: The French on-call duty at the 2019 battlegroup is being prepared).

Staff seconded to a third country

The British will remain in some of these missions and operations which they consider 'strategic', in particular those deployed in Somalia and in the Indian Ocean. But as a third country, as soon as Brexit is consummated. A British merchant navy officer should thus be stationed in Brest, responsible for ensuring the (precious) link with all the British merchant navy structures. And in the EUCAP Somalia mission, London intends to second one of its officers to occupy the position of chief of operations.

A smooth transition

In all these operations and missions, the departure of the British is now not only recorded, but their replacement is assured, without difficulty. It is now difficult, if not almost impossible, to go back. The British lost their turn.

Hard to turn back

If Brexit were to be postponed, it will not change the changes made in the commands: the succession is already in place. The British who occupied these positions have already (or will) find other functions in the British army, NATO or other multinational operations. And in current generations of strength, it would be a foolish bet for British planners to bet on a possible Brexit cancellation or long extension to make significant new stake offers.

A few lessons from the start

From this smooth transition, so smooth that it goes unnoticed, we can already draw some lessons. Firstly, contrary to what some British dignitaries had asserted, seated comfortably in their leather seats in London ministries, and some observers, unfamiliar with the actual functioning of the European Union, the British contribution to the missions and operations of European defense remains modest. It can be easily offset, with just a little goodwill from a few member countries. Secondly, the British departure in fact consecrates the French return to operations and missions which they had somewhat neglected in recent years. In the end, there is still a twinge in the heart. Her Royal Majesty's officers, whom I met during these years, have always made a good impression on me, with that mixture of courtesy, harshness, irony and enthusiasm which makes the charm and efficiency of the army overseas. Sleeve. Damage...

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

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).