Blog AnalysisMediterranean seaMissions Operations

A change of command for EUNAVFOR Med (formerly Sophia) cannot be ruled out

(B2 – exclusive) The EU military operation in the Mediterranean (EUNAVFOR Med) will change its leader by the end of the week. A decision that falls flat when renewal is on the agenda. Question on everyone's lips today in Brussels: will Italy retain command of the operation beyond the month of March?

The command room of the Spanish ship Cantabria (credit: Eunavfor Med 2017)

The ambassadors of the political and security committee must, this Wednesday (February 19), validate the appointment of a new head of Operation Sophia (EUNAVFOR Med) to fight against trafficking in the Mediterranean.

An Italian relay planned

Italian Vice-Admiral Fabio Agostini should officially succeed his compatriot Vice-Admiral Enrico Credendino. This starting Friday (February 21). The admiral, who has presided over the destiny of the operation since the beginning, is ending his military career and could be expected to exercise other responsibilities in the coming months (shh…). An official ceremony to hand over the baton of commander of the operation is also planned in Rome on Friday.

A desire for renewal…

This change had been planned since well before the controversy broke out and the Austro-Hungarian veto on the new operation (as our loyal readers already know, read Booklet 07.02.2020). So today, it falls somewhat flat. This nomination itself is a bit odd. Because all the parameters of the EUNAVFOR Med operation must be reviewed. Political pressure obliges. The operation plan, the rules of engagement, the area of ​​operation, will be reviewed. The name of the operation will be changed. In this maelstrom of renewal, the question of changing the headquarters (based in Rome) or the command of the operation, which belongs to the Italians, arises in a very concrete way.

… who could win the new leader

Everyone is wondering: will the admiral just take a tour for a few weeks? The question is really being asked, as several diplomatic and military sources have confirmed to us. The EEAS spokesperson did not deny this point. “ The planned appointment is [good] for Operation Sophia clarified Virginie Battu during the midday press briefing, questioned by B2 on Tuesday (February 18). " In the elements of the political agreement — intervened yesterday between the ministers (read: Don't call me Sophia anymore! The key points of the new EU operation in the Mediterranean) —, we no longer talk about Operation Sophia. Beyond command, [several points need to be reviewed] starting with the mandate ". And to add: Operation Sophia runs until the end of March. I will not prejudge what happens next. We are talking about a new operation. »

Conclusion: a change (perhaps) necessary

It seems difficult for Italy to maintain both the headquarters based in Rome and the command of the operation.

A very political question

This would be the opposite of the desired effect in political matters which consists of making a clean slate of the past to start again from zero, a “ new operation ". Even if everyone is aware that the word 'news' is mainly there to justify to Austrian and Hungarian public opinion in particular, but also Italian, the slight change of heart of their governments, changes other than cosmetic ones are necessary.

Change HQ: more difficult in a short time

Changing the headquarters requires time — even if only to set up the systems at the technical level. Now if you ask the military, they know how to do it promptly, with two fingers on the sailor's beret. Two countries require this capacity for adaptation, in my opinion: 1° Spain which already has a headquarters dedicated to a maritime operation, in Rota (read: At the headquarters of the Atalanta anti-piracy operation in Rota (Cadiz)). 2° France which can quickly gain power. Two other headquarters exist in the European Union: Potsdam in Germany and Larrissa in Greece. But the time allowed to build up an HQ seems too short. To start at the end of March, arrangements should have already been made today.

Change operation commander: why not

There remains the change of commander. This is what is easiest on a symbolic level. And it is with this in mind that all eyes are turned. In this regard, several countries could claim the title: Spain or Greece for example (which does not have an operation command), or even Germany or France. And, why not a female commander for the operation. That would really change, wouldn’t it?

(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).