Conflict in Libya should urge the EU to reform its political structures

, par Aurélien Caron

Conflict in Libya should urge the EU to reform its political structures

The recent events in Libya raise concern about the European Defense policies and diplomatic coordination. However, the Libyan crisis challenges the entire EU political structure and emphasizes the urgent need for reform. A Common Defense policy could lead to great and appropriate efficiency gains in a period of difficult economic recovery across the member states. It could also enhance the prestige of the Old Continent by enabling the EU to intervene worldwide and master its own defense organization independently from the United States. Unfortunately an archaic political structure prevents the EU from meeting the challenge.

For a month now, and especially in this newspaper, numerous commentators have tackled the European Common Defense issue raised by the European-led military intervention over Colonel Gaddafi regime. The European forces and their allies have provided a useful support to the rebels : soldiers and mercenaries faithful to Colonel Gaddafi have lost ground and the no fly zone is now efficiently enforced.

Nevertheless, it could have been more efficient. This campaign is lacking a convincing leader. The European countries involved in (France, Britain, Italy, Spain and Denmark) don’t hold the American logistics, the military strength or the American diplomatic weight to lead the coalition, at least not individually. Their forces need a central point, a headquarters where a coordinator could make something coherent with the pieces of armies sent by the different countries. It used to be NATO but the rules of the game have suddenly changed. The United States don’t want to deal with every single dictator in the world, and especially not in the Middle East. Officially the Obama administration claims that Libya belongs to the European influence zone, justifying their will to stay in an essentially supportive role. Unofficially, our American allies can’t financially or politically afford another war in a Muslim country, at a time when president Obama has already started to prepare the 2012 re-election campaign. American people are much more concerned by the still-threatening unemployment rate than by the political events occurring next to the Mediterranean Sea. Who could blame them ?

We could argue about the necessity of having a military intervention in Libya. As a matter of fact, if the EU wanted to promote its values and avoid an expected civilian massacre, they had to take a stand. But as we have seen, they can’t do it alone. Without the American leadership, European forces, unused to working together, are confused and obviously unable to intervene on a large scale. Some European Defense initiatives and special units exist (18 battle groups, idea initiated at the Helsinki and Le Touquet European council summits in 1999 and 2003 respectively), and they did an excellent job in 2003 for instance during Operation Artemis (EU-led peace-keeping mission in Democratic Republic of Congo). However their role and power remain limited, insufficient for the Libyan conflict and the 21st century challenges. To remain influential on the international globalized political stage, EU members need to have an independent, efficient military force at their disposal. They can’t do it on their own : that’s why the EU should be in charge of it.

Let’s suppose, even if it may seem far-fetched, that this European military force exists, controlled by an European institution. The resulting economies of scale would be enormous (especially regarding the crucial and expensive research and developments programs), saving money for the taxpayers all around the EU. Trained together, with a superior outfit and more troops available, the forces would be well coordinated and more efficient (no risk of delays due to misunderstanding (see the coordination difficulties in Libya), a reinforced diplomatic power supported by an army able to be deployed quickly anywhere in the world and to vie with any military force). Last but not least, this army would be able to act without American support, enabling the EU to be truly independent in its strategic decisions. Are you convinced by the potentialities offered by this common structure ? You might be ; it would take several years to bring all the resources and forces together and make it efficient but it is technically workable ! As far as strict efficiency is concerned, the EU should look after the defense issues. This would naturally fall under the preview of the EU. Unfortunately the main question remains : who would be in charge ?

The European forces should be managed by an executive power at the European level. Who could it be in our actual institutions ? The European Commission ? Lacking direct legitimacy, hugely criticized by the European citizens for its technocratic functioning and paralyzed by the number of commissioners, it would be foolish to attribute to them such a power today. The European Council ? It would be more legitimate, but this organization has all the disadvantages of inter-governmental process. The current European battle groups are ruled by a unanimity vote of the European Council. In such a case, it would require the agreements of the 27 member States. This scenario is unlikely, as the Libyan crisis proves (abstention of Germany, one of the most important European member).

We could then do what we have already done for a couple of jurisdictions when the leaders wanted to support a larger European involvement without taking any risks : switch from unanimity to qualified majority in the European Council and rely on the newly created president position (currently Herman Von Rompuy) to harmonize opinions and reach a compromise. This qualified majority would be followed by a slight and progressive increase in the number of European battle groups, in a process that we could call a ‘soft transition’. This possibility would certainly be more efficient, but could create resentment between the member states. War and military interventions imply more serious consequences than harmonization of products across the EU, and the project could implode. Moreover, this development of jurisdictions will be long (too long, the EU might need this force in a near future). Creating the tool (basically more troops) without the institution to use it would multiply the bureaucratic networks beyond understanding for European citizens. A more complicated structure : that’s exactly what we have to avoid for the EU. Simplification, accountability and efficiency should be the priority.

To sum up, the Libya war was a test for the European countries. They are unable today to react with a single voice to the global military challenges, and that’s troubling. The European Union structure seems to be naturally fitted to solve this problem and could in theory bring the efficiency requested. Nevertheless, our European institutions are far from being ready and the best solution we can consider using the current European political structure (a qualified majority vote in the European council and a slight increase of the European battle groups) remains hugely insufficient. The economies of scale wouldn’t be realized (the European forces being simply added to the existent national troops). It would also lead to creating even more agencies multiplying the number of life-time secured jobs for unaccountable experts and public servants. Another sluggish compromise taking the disadvantages and ignoring the evident benefits, it sounds like a nightmare. To get through this deadlock, we strongly need a profound reform of our institutions, aiming to transform the executive European power (and especially the European Commission that in the long run could (deeply reformed) be in charge of this European army). The EU should stop expanding its jurisdictions without considering the urgency of reforming its basic organizational structure. This path, followed during the last decade, has proved its inefficiency and its danger. It has actually created the current, unfortunately widely-spread and half-real, EU administrative Leviathan image. European leaders should urgently tackle this institutional issue. Meeting this challenge would help to solve many other European problems. I will suggest next week some reform ideas to reach more efficient-centered EU institutions.

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