EU industry and government leaders are meeting in Berlin to discuss a host of defense topics, including making sure that European mobile battle groups are ready to report for duty early next year.
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, Germany's Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung and his French counterpart Michele Alliot-Marie were among the 2000 participants who met in Berlin on Monday for the opening of the two-day Congress of European Defense.
"We are not dealing with NATO matters, we are dealing with European defense," said conference chairman Reimar Scherz, a retired Brigadier General. "For us it is very important to have a status report on where we are and where we're going."
"The decisions are taken in Brussels as far as European defense and security policies are concerned… and we have installed a European armament agency."
The western alliance NATO is the number one security force in Europe, but the European Union is building its own defense force to strengthen its own defense capabilities and deal in crisis situations where NATO is not engaged.
The ultimate goal
The EU's ultimate aim, according to the 1999 Helsinki agreement and the 2004 Headline Goal is to create by 2010 a European military force of 50 to 60 thousand soldiers who can be deployed within 60 days and sustained in the field for at least one year.
"European member states spend annually 170 billion euros (215 billion) on defense," said congress president Karl von Wogau, who is also chairman of the Subcommittee on Security and Defence of the European Parliament.
"That's a small amount, some 40 percent of what the Americans spend. But the Americans are saying: You give out 40 percent, but your efficiency is at 10 percent. Which means we lose efficiency by often doing the same thing 25 times," he said.
The EU currently has 6,000 troops stationed in Bosnia Herzegovina and 2,000 in the Democratic Republic of Congo. A mission in Macedonia was also recently completed.
Getting battle groups ready
One of the EU priorities in defense matters is to make sure that its planned mobile battle groups are properly equipped and ready to report for duty early next year.
"We have made decisions as far EU battle groups are concerned," Scherz said. "There will be 13 battle groups early next year... 1,500 soldiers each, and Germany is participating in four battle groups. Those decisions have been taken, but the question is how these decisions will be implemented."
The battle groups will be similar to NATO's rapid reaction force, but will be under EU command. The battle groups will be created in response to a crisis and only stay for the duration of that crisis. It will be up to the member states themselves to decide whether, when and how to contribute troops.
EU member states are yet to settle command issues and agree on how the troops will be transported.
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