Blog AnalysisMissions Operations

Brexit already underway in European defense policy

(B2 – exclusive) Regardless of the turmoil at Westminster and the torments of Downing Street, or the beltless driving of Prince Philippe, in the area 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 (aka 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 La Rota HQ is in full preparation, as is the secondary HQ in Brest – which hosts the connection with the merchant navy. 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 600 men maximum. It is no less important, because it is an important “observation post” of what is happening in the Balkans, particularly in terms of the return of foreign fighters. A Frenchman will take charge of the operation, from NATO HQ in Mons (SHAPE). A small core of French people is also planned in Sarajevo within the force headquarters (read: The return of France to the EU operation in Bosnia and Herzegovina).

The abandonment of a number 2 post in Somalia

Finally, within the EUCAP Somalia civilian mission responsible for providing advice and training to Somalis for maritime security, the number 2 position held by a Briton is in the process of changing hands, according to our information. The British were unable to provide a command post for European operations.

Withdrawal from the battlegroup schedule

Likewise, in terms of the EU's rapid reaction force, the British withdrew from the battlegroup duty tour (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 the Indian Ocean. But as a third country, as soon as Brexit is complete. A British merchant marine officer should therefore be positioned in Brest, responsible for ensuring the (valuable) link with all British merchant marine structures. And in the EUCAP Somalia mission, London intends to second one of its officers to occupy the position of head 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 command: 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 force, it would be a foolish gamble for British planners to bank on a possible cancellation or long extension of Brexit to make new offers for significant participation.

A few lessons from the start

From this smooth transition, so smooth that it goes unnoticed, we can already learn some lessons. Firstly, contrary to what certain British dignitaries, seated comfortably in their leather seats in London ministries, and a few observers, little aware of the real functioning of the European Union, had asserted, the British contribution to missions and operations of European defense remains modest. It can be easily compensated, with just a little goodwill from a few member countries. Secondly, the British departure in fact marks the French return to operations and missions that they had, in recent years, somewhat neglected. In the end, there is still a pang in the heart. The officers of His Royal Majesty, encountered during these years, always made a good impression on me, with this 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).