Monday, 14 January 2013

Mali, A Very European Intervention?

The French intervention in Mali follows recent territorial gains by the Islamist extremist group Ansar Dine which culminated in the capture of Konna1. The group had taken control of much of the north of the West African country (an area frequently referred to as being the size of France) and this was considered the extent of the group’s reach. The UN had called for an African led intervention just before Christmas2 and the French had been discussing a training mission in Mali a few months prior to that, though they had ruled out any action until September. However clearly the fast changing situation on the ground worried Paris enough that they felt action was needed (though it seems likely French forces were already prepared for this eventuality).

But is this intervention justified? Well one look at the litany of atrocities committed by Ansar Dine could well be enough to justify the action. From a strategic point of view the Al-Qaida linked group is certainly not an organisation the EU and neighbouring countries want in control of vast areas of West Africa, potentially providing recruitment, training and shelter for extremist elements. Although the interim government’s legitimacy has been called in to question because of the army’s coup in March 2012 it is still worth noting that the government asked France for military intervention. Some have asked, hinting at French hypocrisy, why France has intervened in Mali but not in the Democratic Republic of Congo which also recently called on France for military intervention to help in fighting the M23 rebels. Well I feel the comparison is unfair, the M23 rebels have demonstrated that by agreeing to a ceasefire and peace talks3, this is a highly unlikely outcome in Mali especially whilst Ansar Dine’s had been succeeding. This intervention seems to have galvanised Mali’s neighbours into action and on Saturday Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal all committed to send troops whilst the UK is supplying France with logistical support4.

Could this be a model for future European interventions? Whatever your particular view on this intervention it’s still worth examining its implementation. The French have managed to land a considerable military force (some hundreds) close to Konna. They quickly captured Konna and have halted and are even reversing Ansar Dine’s gains, though the situation is so fluid at the moment. With France’s strong military presence in West Africa their forces on the ground already had air support and logistics in place to carry out this intervention so it is perhaps not going to be the exact example for any future European interventions but there are several things in place in this instance that we should seek to replicate, in particular the regional and global support. Without this kind of support there is no hope of a long term solution, much less a viable exit strategy.

In this case I am in favour of the French intervention, as stated the nature of the Ansar Dine extremists (and the defeated Tuareg mercenaries who fled Libya after the defeat of Gaddafi) makes it very hard even for the most die-hard of apologists to defend, especially given their strength in the region. That said intervention isn’t always the answer and we need to try diplomacy when possible, hence the Common Foreign and Security Policy (you can’t have one without the other. But to dismiss intervention completely is just as extreme as to consistently insist on military intervention. This operation bares similarities to Sierra Leone and in some aspects Libya. Should Europe be drawn more and more into similar situations it will be very important to learn the lessons of these modern conflicts. The real test for France will be to avoid mission creep and put in place a feasible exit strategy as soon as possible.

By James Taylor.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

The US Military Pivot and the EU

‘About Face!’

In a recent article in the Guardian1 about the future of UKs maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft capability some interesting views were expressed by the UKs current Defence Secretary, Philip Hammond, with regards to the US ‘pivot’ of its military assets from Europe to the Asia Pacific region.

Philip Hammond criticised Europe’s collective defence capability and suggested that the intervention in Libya had “cruelly exposed” some limitations of some European countries, but what are these limitations? For some examples we need look no further than the current UK government’s cost cutting led SDSR (Strategic Defence and Security Review). That review axed the £4bn Nimrod replacement, the Harrier force (the UKs fixed wing carrier capable aircraft) and will lead to drastic cuts to troop numbers leaving the UK with many of the defence gaps he’s likely referring too.

Naturally his comments are directed at European allies in NATO, particularly Germany, and to be fair I do agree with this, but we should beware of hypocrisy. That said the UK and France together account for the vast majority of European defence spending. But if the UK government and Philip Hammond believe countries like Germany should begin contributing more then, in my view, the best way to achieve this is through the EU.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere in this blog2 Germany and other EU members are supportive of a European military whereas the UK stands in opposition to this. Instead we need to take a more pragmatic approach and allow those countries who see the sense in pooling military resources to do so, whilst at the same time having our own reservations respected. I do not think this risks further division between Britain and the EU, but rather speeds up progress of the EU project. Another reason I doubt this would lead to divisions is because of France, their strong Gaulist tradition of independence is similar to opinion of many in the UK and they would likely want to maintain a similar level of independence as the UK.

Philip Hammond is right that Europe needs to pull its weight, especially now we cannot guarantee that the Americans will make up our capability gaps. However the most cost effective way to get the Germans et al to do this is through the EU.

1 The Guardian, 05/12/2012, ‘Unmanned drones likely to take over Nimrod spy duties’, Accessed 20/12/2012

2 Eurofile, 26/11/2012, ‘An argument for a European Union Security Force’,

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

An Economic Case For Federal Union

'A Wealthy Future'

When looking at the total GDP of the European Union in 2011 it accounted for $17,610.826 billion1, making it the richest area in the world. The nearest runner up is the United States which accounted for $15,075.675 billion2 in 2011. Naturally the US, as one entity, is able to get a lot more for its dollar than the EUs 27 separate member states can and the duplication of efforts inherent to our current setup creates a lot of waste in various areas from healthcare to defence (see this earlier article for more detail

However when comparing the EU and the US GDP per capita the US rates much more highly than the EU with the US having $48,328 per person whereas the EU has $35,9733 suggesting a better income distribution in the US, however we need to take into consideration the population difference with the EU having nearly 200 million more citizens that the US.

Typically a more useful comparison is a GDP per capita that is PPP (Purchasing Power Parity) adjusted, this takes into account the cost of living, however this doesn’t change results much for the US but for the EU the total drops by around $3,0004. Again we can view this discrepancy through the prism of population differential. This difference is likely to remain the case for the foreseeable future as the EU continues to expand and include more and former Warsaw Pact countries with large populations and, compared to the US and Western Europe, weak economies.

Of course because of the variety within Europe many EU countries approximate or score much more highly than the US when looked at individually. But as a federalist clearly this is an undesirable state of affairs. But what we can glean from these figures is that there great potential within the EU, as the richest ‘state’ in the world and with a proud tradition of social provision across much of the continent a federal Europe could turn this great wealth towards improving the situation of less developed nations thus improving the overall situation within the EU.

Accessed 19/12/2012

2International Monetary Fund. Accessed 19/12/2012

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Demystifying The European Union For Brits

'A Break-neck Break Down of the European Union’s Government'

The EU is a complicated beast at the best of times and it’s no wonder that the ordinary people of Europe find it difficult to connect to those mysterious people known as Eurocrats. A situation not helped by the fact that the two most important people in the EU are both typically (although informally) referred to as ‘The President’. In this brief article I’d like to try and draw some parallels between the some major EU government institutions and those of the UK which myself and my fellow Brits would be more familiar with, hopefully giving people a clearer idea of how things work.

1) The Prime Minister – The EU has two roles which when combined bare similarities to post of Prime Minister, these are the President of the European Commission and the President of the European Council. The Commission President is responsible for allocating portfolios to members of the Commission and can reshuffle and dismiss them as needed much like the Prime Minister can with his Cabinet. Whereas the Council President is a political position designed to act as the representative of the EU on the world stage and who also helps shape political direction.

2) The Cabinet – The British Cabinet is primarily a policy direction shaping group. They have a similar responsibility as the European Council though with perhaps a wider remit. Unlike the Council, Cabinet members can be chosen, reshuffled and dismissed as needed by the Prime Minister. The Council is made up of the heads of government of the 27 member states along with the President of the European Commission, the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and the President of the European Council, currently Herman Van Rumpoy. Naturally these members of the Council cannot be removed unilaterally. However the similarity is that both institutions share the same purpose; to define “the general political directions and priorities” of the Union.

3) The House of Commons – The European Commission is the executive body of the European Union responsible for proposing legislation, implementing decisions and the general day-to-day running of the EU. This is also the duty of the British Parliaments House of Commons. The Commission is headed by the President of the European Commission, currently José Manuel Durão Barroso. Unlike the European Commission the House of Commons is a fully elected body whereas only the Commission President can be said to be elected in any sense with other members of the Commission able to be reshuffled and dismissed in a similar fashion to a Cabinet Minister. This is one of the primary concerns of most EU reformists and the source of the EU’s ‘democratic deficit’.

4) The House of Lords – The European Parliament is the only major elected institution in the EU. It shares its purpose with the unelected House of Lords (a source of the UK’s own democratic deficit) and both institutions are tasked with the censure of new laws being proposed. Because it doesn’t possess legislative initiative (the ability to propose laws) like most elected national parliaments it has much more in common with the House of Lords.

I hope this has cleared up some of the murky world of the EU apparatus, naturally there will be many instances where these comparisons don’t hold true or, especially in the case of the Commission and Council Presidents, where many responsibilities overlap. Please think of this a rough survival guide to get you started.