Select Committee on European Union Fourth Report


Letter from Rt Hon Geoffrey Hoon MP, Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence to the Chairman

  I understand from my Rt Hon Friend the Minister for Europe that you would be interested in more information on the EU Battlegroups initiative. I therefore attach some information about the EU Battlegroup concept, one of the key initiatives in ESDP. The UK is playing a leading role in its development. I hope that this will help to outline the policy and importance of this new initiative and answer any questions you may have over its history and development.

  The key stages in the development of the concept have been captured in the Explanatory Memoranda submitted by the FCO on 17 June 2004 and 23 December 2004 on the ESDP Presidency Reports. Nevertheless, I appreciate your interest in this flagship European initiative which has already demonstrated its value as an instrument for improving Europe's high readiness capability. I hope that this letter provides further detail which you find helpful.

19 February 2005

Annex A

Battlegroup Concept


  The EU Battlegroup concept was conceived primarily as a means of encouraging continued improvements in deployable European capabilities, thus widening the scope for burden sharing with our European partners. This will in turn broaden the pool of European high readiness capabilities available not only to the EU but also to NATO and, specifically, the NATO Response Force. In addition, this kind of high readiness capability meets the UN's requirement for forces who are able to respond very rapidly to an emerging crisis under a Chapter VII mandate, and thereby demonstrates European willingness to meet a crucial global capability gap in support of the United Nations.

  The concept was proposed as a UK, French and German initiative, following on from our bilateral discussions with the French on furthering conflict prevention, peacekeeping and peace enforcement operations in close co-operation with the United Nations, and the Declaration made at the Anglo-French Summit on 24 November 2003.

  Battlegroups have been designed specifically, but not exclusively, to be used in response to a request from the United Nations to undertake rapid intervention in a hostile environment. This might include acting to prevent atrocities or helping with the provision of urgent humanitarian aid. This type of scenario is particularly applicable in failing or failed states. Recent examples in Africa (such as the UK's operational experience in Sierra Leone, the French in Co(r)te d'Ivoire, and the EU's operation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) have not only illustrated the need for such a capability, but demonstrated how a relatively small number of forces can have a significant effect in a short period of time, provided they can be deployed rapidly with the appropriate support.


  The Battlegroup initiative sets a new level of ambition for the EU, alongside the existing 1999 Helsinki Headline Goal. It will form a part of the new 2010 Headline Goal which adds to the original aims a clearer focus on the quality of the capability, such as the ability to deploy forces rapidly, sustain them at distance and operate multi nationally. The Battlegroup initiative concentrates on smaller, higher readiness forces, more rapidly deployable, more mobile and more self-sustainable.

  The key elements of the initiative are:

    —  Stand-alone Battlegroup-sized forces (around 1,500 strong, including Combat Support and Combat Service Support);

    —  deployable within 15 days;

    —  sustainable for 30 days (but extendable up to 120 days);

    —  designed for compatibility with typical UN Chapter VII mandates to restore international peace and security; and

    —  composed of contributions from one or more Member States, and open to participation by third parties.

  Rapid response forces need not necessarily be large but they do need to be militarily effective, credible, coherent and capable of stand-alone operations. EU Battlegroups are composed of the generally accepted minimum force elements necessary to meet such requirements. They are a specific form of rapid response and constitute part of the wider strands of work that collectively make up the EU's efforts to improve its ability in this area.


  In discussions between the EU and NATO, there has been broad agreement that the Battlegroup initiative will be mutually reinforcing with the larger NATO Response Force (NRF), each providing a positive impetus for military capability improvement. Wherever possible and applicable, standards, practical methods and procedures for Battlegroups are analogous to those defined within the NRF. Correctly managed, there is considerable potential for synergy between the two initiatives.

  The types of mission for which the NRF and Battlegroups are designed are complementary, rather than being duplicative. The NRF is designed to participate in the full range of Alliance missions, up to and including high intensity war-fighting. This may include a show of force, stand-alone use for crisis response operations, or initial entry for a larger operation. On the other hand, EU Battlegroups will in most cases be deployed in response to a UN request and will be capable of robust peace enforcement on a limited scale. Likely missions include local suppression of hostilities, separation of parties and prevention of atrocities.

  Nevertheless, we believe that the EU Battlegroups have the potential to act as a useful stepping-stone" for countries who want to contribute to the NRF, by developing their high readiness forces to the required standard and integrating small countries' contributions into multinational units. The key will be to ensure transparency in the development of these initiatives so that we avoid duplication and enable those Member States contributing to both to harmonise their commitments.

  This initiative has attracted a high level of political support throughout Europe, not least as it is closely linked to the protocol for structured co-operation" in the new European Constitutional Treaty. Structured co-operation is a treaty mechanism to allow some Member States to make more binding commitments to each other in defence matters. The UK ensured that the Treaty set out participation in battlegroups as the principal entry criterion for membership of structured co-operation.[47] This has two welcome effects: first, it prevents structured co-operation becoming a closed or exclusive club (any Member State who chooses to meet this criterion can join); second, it has provided a strong political incentive for all Member States to make real investment in deployable, high readiness forces, so that they can contribute to a battlegroup and hence be included in structured co-operation.


  The Military Capability Commitments Conference on 22 November 2004 drew commitments from 22 different EU Member States, along with Norway, resulting in a total of 13 Battlegroups, and a number of supporting niche capabilities, to be available by 2007. A summary of the commitments made last November is provided at Appendix 1. This is testament to the success of the Battlegroup initiative in driving the development of high-quality crisis management forces by our European partners. With so many countries participating, each will have its turn in the spotlight.

  By 2007, Full Operational Capability will be reached, with the Union able to undertake two concurrent single Battlegroup-size rapid response operations. In the meantime, during the Initial Operational Capability period, the EU will be able to provide at least one coherent Battlegroup package, to undertake one Battlegroup-size operation.

  The United Kingdom has committed one national and one multinational Battlegroup, in partnership with the Netherlands, based on long-standing cooperation in the UK/Dutch Amphibious Force. We expect to hold one of these Battlegroups on standby for six months in any two-year period. The national Battlegroup is currently on standby for this first six-month rotation (January-June 2005), during which time France has also committed a national Battlegroup. The UK/Dutch multinational Battlegroup will be available after 2007. To meet these commitments, UK troops will be drawn from the Joint Rapid Reaction Force as appropriate at the time. However, we have made clear that reinforcement of existing operations may restrict the UK's ability to deploy on behalf of the EU in 2005. The UK has also made available facilities at the Permanent Joint Headquarters, Northwood, as a multi-national Operation HQ for any future potential Swedish-led EU Battlegroup operation.


  Funding for ESDP operations involving Battlegroups would follow the agreed format for all military ESDP operations, i.e., funding for common costs" (eg Headquarters) divided between Member States on a Gross National Product key, and all other costs paid for by the sending Member State.

  Therefore, as has been the case with EU military operations to date, in the Demographic Republic of Congo and Bosnia, the majority of the costs of any EU military operation involving a Battlegroup will fall to the Member State, or States, which provide the forces deployed. Given that Member States are providing their Battlegroups contributions on a voluntary rotational basis this approach should ensure an equitable division of financial burden between participating Member States.


  The EU Battlegroup proposal was welcomed by the European Council in March 2004. In his report on EU military rapid response in April 2004, the Secretary General Javier Solana proposed a methodology for developing the capabilities required for rapid response. This proposal was approved by the Council of Ministers in May 2004 and integrated into the Headline Goal 2010 to provide the political guidance for the development of the concept. The Council also concluded that work on the Battlegroup Concept should be completed by the end of the Irish Presidency in June 2004. The European Council on 14 June welcomed the agreement of the Battlegroups Concept by the EUMC. Finally, and as noted above, Ministers of Defence reaffirmed their commitment to the concept at the Military Capability Commitment Conference on 22 November.


  A roadmap leading up to the Full Operational Capability period has recently been agreed and the next steps will involve developing the operating standards, rotation principles and training requirements for the Battlegroups. Work is also underway between the EU and NATO on harmonising the Battlegroup and NRF concepts to ensure they continue to develop on a complementary and mutually reinforcing basis. The UK is fully engaged in this process and is supporting EU Member States with advice on how best to develop the critical enabling capabilities required to deploy and sustain an EU Battlegroup.

  The means by which to co-ordinate Member States' contributions from 2007 onwards has yet to be finalised. However, it is likely to involve a form of rotational plan based on a six-month cycle. The system would be flexible to accommodate the different ways in which Member States organise their contributions: some will wish to draw on existing high readiness forces (either continuously or periodically) to meet a Battlegroup commitment, whereas others will prefer to generate specific formations for explicit periods of stand-by. The most important factor is that it must be for Member States to produce complete Battlegroup packages, either nationally or in small multinational groups. That means small countries providing niche contributions must ensure they are integrated into full Battlegroups, and not simply placed on the table. The UK is therefore opposed to any heavily centralised force generation process which would allow countries to offer small, incoherent contributions, relying on the EU Military Staff to bind them into groups, and reducing the incentive of this initiative to drive national capability improvement.

  An EU Battlegroup Co-ordination Conference will take place in May 2005 when Members States who have made commitments will organise the rotational plan between 2007 and 2010.



  So far, Member States have committed 13 EU Battlegroups, formed as follows:

    —  France

    —  Italy

    —  Spain

    —  United Kingdom

    —  France, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and potentially Spain

    —  France and Belgium

    —  Germany, the Netherlands and Finland

    —  Germany, Austria and Czech Republic

    —  Italy, Hungary and Slovenia

    —  Italy, Spain, Greece and Portugal

    —  Poland, Germany, Slovakia, Latvia and Lithuania

    —  Sweden, Finland and including Norway as a third State

    —  United Kingdom and the Netherlands

NICHE CAPABILITIESSo far, the following Member States have offered niche capabilities in support of the EU Battlegroups:

    —  Cyprus (medical group)

    —  Lithuania (a water purification unit)

    —  Greece (the Athens Sealift Co-ordination Centre)

    —  France (structure of a multinational and deployable Force Headquarters)

47   Protocol on permanent structured co-operation, established by Articles 1-40(6) and 111-213 of the Constitution for Europe, states that: The permanent structured cooperation . . . shall be open to any Member State which undertakes . . . to . . . (inter alia) have the capacity to supply by 2007 at the latest, either at national level or as a component of multinational force groups, targeted combat units for the missions planned, structured at a tactical level as combat formations, with support elements including transport and logistics, capable of carrying out the tasks referred in Article 111-210, within a period of 5-30 days, in particular in response to requests from the UN Organisation, and which can be sustained for an initial period of 30 days and be extended up to at least 120 days." Back

previous page contents next page

House of Lords home page Parliament home page House of Commons home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2005