European Union defence ministers are expected to approve the establishment of a new EU military centre in Brussels on Thursday, despite earlier British objections to the project.
Plans to set up the Military Planning Conduct and Capability (MPCC) facility to oversee the EU’s “non-executive military missions” come amid doubts over US President Donald Trump’s commitment to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a 28-member military bloc covering most of Europe.
EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini, who chaired a meeting on the March accord with EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday, has long pushed for the bloc to take on an increased military role.
Currently, EU military cooperation is limited to civil-military training operations in Mali, the Central African Republic and Somalia. None of these missions involve the use of force.
The EU has also mounted Operation Sophia in the central Mediterranean, which can use force to stop migrant smugglers, and the Operation Atalanta anti-piracy mission off the Horn of Africa.
These two executive operations have their own command centres which will remain separate from the MPCC.
Approval for the plans were delayed till Thursday following British opposition, Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis said after Monday’s meeting. He expressed concern that the same could happen at Thursday's defence ministers' meeting.
Although Britain agreed to the accord in March, turning the agreement into a legal text has run into trouble, with proposals to call it an “Operational Headquarters” being a “red flag” for Britain, EU diplomatic sources said ahead of Monday’s meeting.
“We are still trying to find a compromise with our British friends on the legal position so that this structure can be set up,” said one of sources who asked not to be named.
“They are extremely sensitive to the elections and how it might be seen back in the UK,” the source added.
Britons will vote in snap elections on June 8 with the primary focus being on the country’s decision to leave the EU based on the result of a referendum last year. The opposition Labour party accuses Prime Minister Theresa May’s government of leading the country into a “hard Brexit” which will jeopardise Britain’s position in Europe.
Britain, a nuclear-armed power which wields a UN Security Council veto, has consistently opposed EU defence integration as a risk to NATO.
Matter of semantics
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson on Monday reassured the EU of its commitment to the plan, saying that Britain’s differences with the other 27 EU member states on the project had been overdone.
"We understand the vital importance of European countries working together to strengthen our defences," Johnson said.
"If they want to come together ... with other arrangements, then we don't want to stand in their way. We just [need to] work on the language to make sure that we get it totally right," he added.
Mogherini also told reporters that she had spoken to British defence secretary Michael Fallon on Sunday, telling him that any political decision made by 28 members should receive the “same energy into making it operational” from all parties.
"I would not understand any minister putting an obstacle between a political decision and implementation," Mogherini added.
— Federica Mogherini (@FedericaMog) May 15, 2017