EU battlegroups ‘failing’

Europe’s (EU) battlegroup concept is failing because the costs are being borne by those nations providing the troops and equipment rather than by the European Union (EU) as a whole, a senior German official said on 30 November.

Speaking at the Berlin Security Conference (BSC) 2016, Bettina Cadenbach, Director for Security Policy at the Federal Foreign Office of the Federal Republic of Germany said that the EU battlegroups that were first established in 1999 are not working as intended due to an unwillingness by those nations not directly involved to pay for them.

“The use of the battlegroups has failed so far as the cost of their deployments has to be borne by the nations [taking part],” Cadenbach said, adding: “Fair burden sharing is needed.”

The battlegroups were first established at the EU Summit in Helsinki in 1999 with the purpose of pooling military capabilities from across the union to support distinctly European operations, with the concept being finally agreed in 2004 and becoming fully operational in 2007. Member nations take turns in standing-up two 1,500-strong battlegroups for high-readiness or rapid-deployment missions for a limited duration under the auspices the European Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), with the most recent task force stood-up in May being led by the UK and supported by forces from Finland, Lithuania, Latvia, Sweden, and the Republic of Ireland.

As well as providing the EU with a rapid response capability to react militarily to emerging crises, the battlegroup concept also serves as a driver for transforming the continent’s armed forces from a Cold War defensive structure into a more expeditionary configuration. The concept is designed to augment, rather than replace, NATO’s role in the defence of Europe, with Cadenbach noting, “It is not about duplicating structures, but complementing them.”

While the EU lauds the achievements of the battlegroup concept to date, citing its value in securing increased co-operation and capability development among the member states, it also notes the problems in funding raised by Cadenbach at the BSC.