EU mulls new reaction force as previous one gathers dust

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union is considering whether to set up a 5,000-strong military force that could be deployed quickly to a potential conflict zone, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Thursday as the 27-nation bloc weighs its future as an international security provider.

EU defense ministers discussed the proposal for the “initial entry force” at a meeting in Brussels. The plan already has the backing of 14 member countries, including heavyweights France, Germany, Italy and Spain.

Borrell said the ministers debated the idea “of an initial entry force that could be deployed as a first responder in case that we have to face an urgent crisis.” No agreement was reached, he said. “It is a collective reflection. There is strong agreement on some issues, the debate is going on in others.”

“I think that it is good to have the capacity to intervene immediately if we really want to be a geopolitical power,” he told reporters.

The force would primarily be a brigade-sized land unit involving around 5,000 personnel, with the possibility to add naval equipment and perhaps aircraft. The aim would be to use it when a friendly government comes under attack by terrorist or other groups that pose a direct threat to its stability.

However, the EU has often proved reluctant to send troops into conflict areas. While it has launched several military training missions, the bloc does not deploy combat operations. Troops sent to Chad and the Central African Republic, for example, were there only to protect civilians and aid supplies.

The EU already has a rapidly deployable force, at least on paper. In 2007, it launched a “battlegroup concept,” with around 1,500 troops on standby for a six-month period. Control of the battlegroups, which would operate for at least 30 days, shifted from country to country.

But in 14 years, no battlegroup has never been called upon, due to political infighting over how to use them and squabbles over funding.

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