‘EU can’t do that!’ Brussels’ army hopes slashed by defence experts as bloc ‘too slow’

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The chaotic Western withdrawal from Afghanistan is likely to be a catalyst for the European Union’s attempts to develop its common defence, the EU’s top diplomat said on Thursday, saying a rapid reaction force must be part of that. Calls within the EU are growing for the bloc to be able to intervene militarily in a crisis without relying on US troops.

EU defence and foreign ministers are set to discuss the way forward on Thursday and Friday at an informal meeting of EU defence ministers in Slovenia.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said before the Slovenia gathering: “Sometimes there are events that catalyse history, that create a breakthrough, and I think that Afghanistan is one of these cases.”

Borrell has called for a European “first entry force” of 5,000 troops to replace the EU’s battlegroups that were created in 2007 but have never been used.

“We have to look for something more operational,” he said regarding an entry force.

“The need for more, stronger European defence is more evident than ever,” he told reporters.

He said he hoped for a plan in October or November.

But defence experts have slammed EU chiefs’ hopes for the creation of an EU army, arguing cooperation on a one to one basis between member states should be prioritised.

Dick Zandee, defence expert at the Clingendael Institute, said the Afghanistan crisis is also not a turning point in the American-European relationship.

He said: “It just marks the lack of capacity and anticipation that Europe has. That the US is increasingly letting Europe take care of itself.

“There will be a lot of situations where we will continue to work with America.

“But there will be many more where Europe should be able to do without the Americans. Right now we are still too dependent on American capabilities.”

Former NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer agrees.

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“What is becoming untenable is that Europe is little without the United States,” he said this week on Dutch radio.

According to Mr Zandee, the EU can play a greater role in this type of capacity development.

But he warned that “for an operation such as the evacuation from Kabul, such a large, viscous organisation as the EU is too slow. For that, countries must join forces in opportunity coalitions”.

De Hoop Scheffer also argued for coalitions of two to four countries that can intervene quickly militarily if necessary.

He said: “Europe cannot do that at the moment.

“We should not form a European army, but invest considerably more money in our defence.”

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