EU launches a plan to improve military mobility

As part of a major drive to consolidate and reinforce EU security and defence, the European commission presented an Action Plan to improve military mobility within and beyond the European Union. The objective is to work together at European level to ensure road and rail networks are suitable for military transport, and to simplify and streamline national rules for quick and seamless movement of military troops and vehicles across the continent in case of a crisis.

« We must be able to quickly deploy troops »

This Action Plan identifies a series of operational measures to tackle physical, procedural or regulatory barriers which hamper military mobility. The aim is to be able, by the end of next year, to draw up a list of « dual-use » projects to improve infrastructure that could used both for civilian and military transport.

Implementation of the Plan will enable the EU and its Member States to act faster, in line with their defence needs and responsibilities – both in the context of Common Security and Defence Policy missions and operations, as well as national and multinational activities e.g. in the framework of NATO. However, it is not about removing border checks altogether (i.e. no military ‘Schengen’). National sovereignty will be fully respected.

“Promoting peace and guaranteeing the security of our citizens are our first priorities as European Union. By facilitating military mobility within the EU, we can be more effective in preventing crises, more efficient in deploying our missions, and quicker in reacting when challenges arise.”

High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President Federica Mogherini  

Actions impacted

Concrete actions are proposed in the following areas:

  • Military requirements: This is the starting point for an effective and coordinated approach to military mobility across the EU. The European External Action Service (EEAS) and the EU Military Staff will develop military requirements, which reflect the needs of the EU and its Member States, including the infrastructure needed for military mobility.
  • Transport infrastructure: Infrastructure policy and investments offer opportunities for more synergies between civilian and military needs. By 2019, the Commission will identify the parts of the trans-European transport network suitable for military transport, including necessary upgrades of existing infrastructure (e.g. the height or the weight capacity of bridges). A priority list of projects will be drawn up. The Commission will take into account possible additional financial support for these projects in the next multiannual financial framework.
  • Regulatory and procedural issues: The Commission will look at options to streamline and simplify customs formalities for military operations and assess the need to align rules for the transport of dangerous goods in the military domain. In parallel, the European Defence Agency (EDA) will support Member States in developing arrangements on cross-border movement permissions.

Alignment with NATO

EU transport commissioner Violeta Bulc stressed however that the mobility plan was « part of the EU defence strategy, not Nato. »

Actually, the plan is a test both for the European Union’s renewed efforts to coordinate on military matters and to work better with NATO, which has its own standards for military-strength bridges, roads, tunnels and airfields.

NATO is planning to establish a new logistics command to move troops and equipment more quickly across Europe in any possible conflict. A second command is planned to be set up to ensure mobility in North Atlantic shipping lanes.

Thus, the European Commission said the action plan complements rather than competes with NATO.

NATO and the EU will be able to do some really good alignment work. This alignment and the fitness check are absolutely necessary. We’re talking about dual use of the same infrastructure — for civilian use and for military use.”

European Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc.

Although Commissioner Bulc did not explicitly mention Russia as a potential threat to Europe, she stated that the bloc is facing « an unpredictable evolution of international politics” that allows the EU “to activate our defences when we need to « .

Next step

The European Commission plan must now be approved by EU governments and reviewed by the European Parliament. The first part of the action plan is expected to be carried out in the coming months and a first progress report delivered in summer 2019.

© Getty Images/AFP/Carl de Souza

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