The European Union is launching its first military mission. It is taking over from NATO to run a peace-keeping operation in Macedonia with a force of three hundred soldiers. The mission has been called “Operation Concordia” but it is starting at a time when the EU is still suffering from damaging disputes about Iraq. This report from Chris Morris.
It may be scarcely noticed amidst the flurry of war in Iraq, but this is something of a turning point for European defence. For the first time, the EU, that most political of organisations, will run a military mission. It's putting flesh on the bones of its ambitions to create a viable European defence identity. It's neither the biggest, nor the most ambitious of missions – just three hundred troops in Macedonia to begin with, for just six months – but it is a start and it has great symbolic importance.
If all goes well, and as the EU is taking over from a successful NATO mission there's no reason why it shouldn't, then there will be more to come. The EU already has its eye on the much larger peace-keeping operation in Bosnia, where twelve thousand troops are currently under NATO command.
Officials say future missions could take them to Africa or the Caucasus, once the EU's new rapid reaction force is up and running. Europe has been split asunder by bitter disagreements about Iraq, exposing the fatal weakness of plans to create a common foreign policy. But the Balkans is one place where the EU is making progress.