A daily blog on the thrills, spills, and frequent absurdities of the world's one and only 'non-imperial empire' - as Barroso himself called it - the European Union.

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Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Ashton Missed The Trick. And So Did We.

Individual nations can do the job just as effectively as the EU ever can.

 Earlier this year, Poland set out the priorities for its stint at the EU's rotating presidency: strengthening cohesion, strengthening co-operation, expanding the 'eastern partnership' framework, raising the European Union budget, and fighting the 'new Euroscepticism' that it said arose from states pursuing their national interests. Donald Tusk, Poland's Prime Minister, presented an upbeat, optimistic image of his presidency: Poland's enthusiasm for the project would invigorate other countries and confront growing scepticism of EU institutions. There was no public mention of their more militaristic aims: in fact, it wasn't for The Voice of Russia, the citizens of Europe would have heard nothing about this. Says it all, really, that Russia - a country with one of the least free presses in the world - knows more about this than we do.

Back in late 2010, when Hungary had just taken over the rotating presidency, defence ministers from Germany, France, and Poland wrote a letter to EU foreign policy chief Baroness Catherine Ashton. Britain's sole contribution to the EU's senior ranks, Ashton is also in charge of the European Defence Agency, and was called upon by the three countries to 'strength co-operation' among EU militaries. This 'co-operation' included the construction of new multinational units that could be deployed alongside the EU's standing army, Eurocorp.

The Arab Spring, however, effectively ended Ashton's involvement: there was little she could find the time for, and the plans got put on the backburner. Well, now they're back. Germany and France are a formidable alliance at the best of times - the 'engine of integration' according to Jacques Delors - and now with the EU's new major player and the rotating presidency they're in a position to put their plans into action. There is clearly some ceremonial importance to the new battleground: 'Poland' will take command of it (Polish officers, at least, who will be under the command of the EU whilst on active deployment) as well as contribute the largest number of men. But there is also a practical side to it: one thousand five hundred soldiers will be a welcome addition to the EU's rapid reaction force, and can also serve alongside their standing army, Europol. It will also be suitable for deployment to 'crisis areas' in the European Union and beyond.

There's one problem that the EU could encounter if it attempts to deploy the new battlegroup, however: that problem is the German High Court. In 2009, it ruled that that deployments of troops outside of Germany must be approved by the Reichstag. We shall see whether, if this EU battlegroup is deployed, whether that ruling is abandoned, or upheld.

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