Mali conflict shows France is the 'de facto European army'
by Justin Stares
War in Mali has again exposed the European Union's Achilles' heel - an unwillingness to sanction joint military action,áreports PublicServiceEurope.com
France has been forced to act as the de facto "European Union army" because the 27-member bloc is still incapable of putting together a joint defence force, a conference in Brussels heard on Wednesday. The French-led military intervention in Mali has once again shown that when it comes to protecting itself, the EU is only capable of showing "solidarity from behind" - according to a French MEP.
"Europe cannot always give responsibility to one member state," said Arnaud Danjean, chairman of the European Parliament's subcommittee on security and defence. France had been obliged to take on the role of a "European army, Europe's mercenaries", he said. Support from the rest of the union for France has been "modest", Danjean told a conference organised by the Friends of Europe think-tank. "When you tour Europe you find one plane here, one logistical element there," he said. There was broad diplomatic support "but not much more", he added.
Half of Europe's foreign ministers did not even bother turning up when the Mali intervention was raised at an extraordinary meeting in the Council of Ministers in mid-January, he pointed out. "European countries are giving up in terms of defence," said Danjean. So-called EU "battle groups" exist on paper for crises such as these but were not activated. "Thank god public opinion didn't know", about their existence, said Danjean - who sits with the parliament's Christian Democrat group. If the public had known, their "disillusionment would have been even worse".
Asking one member state to fight on Europe's behalf was "not sustainable", the MEP continued. "It is not diplomatically sane that we remain alone." He said he was "fed up" of hearing that the latest crisis could turn out to be the opportunity Europe needs to get its act together. Catherine Ashton, the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, had already made it clear during the Libya conflict of 2011 that military action was "not our job" - Danjean said. The EU subsequently failed to make any diplomatic impact on the ground when the war was over, he claimed: "Their excuse was that there were no interlocutors but Britain, France, Italy and the United States individually found interlocutors, they found people."
Talking from the audience, the spokesmen for France's permanent representation to the EU pointed out that Danjean's views did not reflect those held in Paris. "We don't consider ourselves as alone," said Gael Veyssiere. "We consider ourselves precursors". For diplomatic reasons, Veyssiere made his point in French. Everyone else spoke English.
Nicholas Westcott, managing director of the Africa department at the European External Action Service, the EU's diplomatic arm, said military power had to go hand-in-hand with economic aid and political reconciliation in Mali. "Lessons were learned in Somalia," Westcott said - where the EU had pulled together humanitarian aid, a navy for combatting piracy and the training of local forces into a "comprehensive approach".
The Mali insurgency "did not come out of the blue", the managing director said. "The fuse was laid, and Libya may have been the match." Fighters returning from Libya fuelled the Mali rebellion which then took on a "jihadist" flavour, he said. France was "the one country willing and able to intervene to stop the state from collapsing". An Africa-led military force was now in preparation and "will be deployed", he predicted.
While it was important to build the Malian army into an effective fighting force, the EU will however not be providing lethal weapons. This task will therefore be left to others - Westcott mentioned America. So EU peacekeepers do exist but Brussels is nowhere near developing a common army. Conference-goers were left with the impression that when it comes to military matters, Europe is still very much a group of sovereign nations.
Mali must be part of wider EU strategy in Sahel
Overlooking the wider context surrounding the conflict in Mali will only lead to its repeat – when in reality the crisis is regional and has long-term security implications for Europe, writes Madeleine Goerg
"France is the de-facto European army". What a load of self-regarding nonsense. France is operating with Canadian and British cargo planes, American fuel and African troops. Crucial intelligence is coming from half-a-dozen countries. Hardly definitive proof that France is the new global police. Or will France do something if Argentina re-invades the Falklands?
James Murray - Perth
EU ground troops would have been useful and symbolic to act beside African troops. Hopefully a few European countries help. The spectacle of disunity in the actual economic crisis is a pity and a shame. There is no European army because there is no communal European sense. It's a dip French citizen deception but not a surprise thinking the way Europe was proactive in Kosovo. I would rather have said a dip European citizen proudness. Sure if we continue these national egocentrism does somebody will help a nation in Falklands or anywhere else? Maybe cargo planes and intelligence would be enough?
Fred Ginoux - Paris