BRUSSELS - EU foreign affairs ministers are considering using a civil-military headquarters in Brussels for small-scale operations off the Horn of Africa.
In conclusions to their meeting here Dec. 1, they say they have agreed "to accelerate planning for the activation of an EU Civil-Military Operations Centre for Horn of Africa operations, at the latest by the next Foreign Affairs Council."
The next EU affairs meeting is scheduled for late January. Currently EU operations have their HQs in individual member states.
According to an EU ministers statement, "When the nature of the operation does not require a national HQ, the Council stands ready to activate on an ad-hoc basis the Operations Centre in accordance with its terms of reference for a specific Common and Security Defence Policy [CSDP] Operation."
The decision appears to signal a U-turn in the U.K.'s stance on the issue. Back in the summer, Catherine Ashton, the EU's high representative for foreign and security policy, proposed an EU HQ for planning and carrying out EU military and civil missions abroad. In July, U.K. Foreign Affairs Minister William Hague said, "the U.K. will block any such move now and in the future."
The EU is currently running two operations in the Horn of Africa - the Atalanta counterpiracy mission and the EU training mission in Somalia. The Brussels' operations center may be used for any new, small-scale contributions to the Horn of Africa, such as building regional maritime capacity, said an official from the EU's Military Staff.
Where the EU has an existing command structure, such as Atalanta at the Northwood HQ in the U.K., an official from the EU Military Staff said "there is no intention of changing a working system on conduct.
"For Atalanta in particular, they are extremely well-placed in Northwood - allowing synergies with the NATO counterpiracy operation - and the scale of the command is far outside of the capacity of the Brussels' operations center," he added.
"We need to help regions [off the Horn of Africa] conduct counterpiracy themselves," Lt. Gen. Ton Van Osch, director-general of the European Union Military Staff, told Defense News in an interview. "A new line of EU action is to help countries develop their own coast guards and navies. Here, the EU military could do the training as part of a civilian mission if the political and security committee decided on a mission."
In the interview, Van Osch gives his views on various issues, including pooling and sharing proposals relating to air-to-air refueling and smart munitions.
On pooling and sharing, ministers recalled "the need to develop cooperation on military capabilities on a longer term and more systematic basis," and stressed the need "to further examine the impact of reduced defense spending on capabilities, including its possible impact on key industrial and technological capacities to be maintained and developed in Europe."
The ministers also encouraged further coordination between the European Defence Agency and the European Commission, "in particular in the field of Research and Technology, in particular regarding the new European Framework Programme for Research and Technology (Horizon 2020)."
They also recalled the commitment of the EU defense chiefs to establish or widen collaborative pooling and sharing projects by mid-2012, urged member states to take on the role of lead nation for concrete projects, and "will assess the progress made in April 2012."
They also stressed "the need to further analyze and address the constraints related to the availability, usability and deployability of existing military capabilities in CSDP operations and missions."
In addition, they bemoaned the fact that, in the first semester of 2012, "only one [EU] battlegroup will be on stand-by" and called for "efforts in order to remedy such shortfalls in the future."