Interview with the Chairman of the European Union Military Committee General Patrick de Rousiers
What is your vision on the future of the EU military development and what are the most important challenges of this process?
The EU at 28 and I am the Chairman of the European Union (EU) Military Committee, so I represent the 28 Chiefs of Defence and I am here in Brussels to feed the discussions among them in order to see what areas they want to commit, what are their abilities and what is their willingness. The major challenge that we are facing is that we are very different, we are very different nations – some of us consider that they are invaded, others consider that their Eastern neighbourhood is a challenge, others consider that the world is globalized world and that issues are far away from Europe and this is where we need to be engaged, so this is the first challenge but there is in fact the ambition collectively to address all of those issues. This is what we are doing at 28 – we are exchanging views and we are supporting and being engaged in various areas and it is about bringing ambitious solidarity amongst ourselves. This is why I am very happy to be here in Riga because here you paved the way and you have a very important interaction with your neighbours in the Baltic and in the Nordic region, and these are the elements that I am here to take, to get and to better understand in order for me to use them as examples for other areas in Europe.
Could a closer EU-NATO cooperation stimulate capability development in both organizations? How do you see the future of EU-NATO cooperation?
EU and NATO are very different, yet we are 28 and 22 nations belong to both organizations – the EU and NATO. We have made a great progress and we are really cooperating between the EU and NATO. There is no NATO army or armed forces; there are no EU armed forces, so it is each of the member states who provide those forces. They have the issue of enhancing, preparing the future and they do it regardless of what type of engagements they will be doing in the future, will it be national or under the EU or NATO flag. So we are not in opposition between the EU and NATO – we are not competing, we are collaborating. We are doing this in areas where Latvia is engaged, like Afghanistan – ISAF where the European Defence Agency and some member states have provided laboratory for analysis of improvised explosive devices, and this is provided for ISAF – so for NATO – NATO troops. We are collaborating of the Horn of Africa in the fight against piracy where there are two ongoing operations at sea – Ocean Shield and Atalanta. We are improving, yet there are a lot to continue to be done but it is about enhancing our interaction between the EU and NATO.
The financial crisis was a reason for declining defence budgets in the EU states which has negatively influenced development military capabilities. Do you see the EU „Pooling and Sharing” concept as a solution for this problem?
I think „Pooling and Sharing” addresses the financial situation. It may lead, and generally does (not always) lead to a financial savings. But I think „Pooling and Sharing” is not about this – it’s about solidarity, it’s about seeing that yes, we consider, among the group of European nations, that together we will work better, we need to work together and that we can do this. This is what you do here in different domains. I would say that what you do with the Baltic Defence College (http://www.bdcol.ee) is an example of „Pooling and Sharing” which is worthwhile. Yes, you probably could have three different colleges but considering that it’s worthwhile to have only one – worth challenging but worthwhile to have the teaching done in English because it helps for the future, it also allows other nations coming there. Another such example is the European new Transport Command which brings the military air transport assets of Luxembourg, Belgium, Germany, Netherlands and France who have decided to pool them so they are doing type of Sky Team or Star Alliance in the military domain environment to optimize the use of each of their assets to have financial gains in operations but also preparing for the future because they are operating together so they are making analysis of what are the needs and what are the future requirements. This is helping also for the future – the „Pooling and Sharing” concept brings sometimes some financial savings; it brings in any case solidarity and prepares for the future to work together.
Latvia is currently participating in EU missions ATALANTA and EUTM Mali. How would you evaluate the success of these missions so far?
Latvia’s involvement in operations or preparing to be engaged in EU Battlegroups is of great importance and great added value. As you highlighted Latvia is currently engaged within 2 of our operations – the fight against piracy which is working extremely well – it works well both at sea but it also works well amongst us. It works well at sea because the level of pirates’ activity has tremendously decreased since we first started in 2008 – only a few years ago and now we are in a situation where we still have hostages but they are only a little bit over 50 when they used to be in hundreds and there used to be tens of ships which were regularly hijacked which is not the case. Our different contingents help this happening and this is very useful but it’s also useful for our nations because it allows our different nations to have a better understanding of what are the ways and tools that can help this happen – frigates, helicopters, vessel protection detachments, to be on board slow moving ships and to prevent actions from taking place, maritime patrol, reconnaissance aircraft, all of the legal actions, the ability to prepare for prosecutions which is to get evidence in the right manner, in the right way. We have increased our ability to fight against illegal trafficking so it has a direct impact and could be used against other situations where we have drug trafficking, human trafficking in other areas of the world, so we have increased through this operation, we have decreased the level of engagement in the Horn of Africa, we have increased our overall ability to operate at sea and to protect those areas.