© EPA-EFE/FRANCOIS LENOIR / POOL
Last week, informal meetings of EU countries' defense and foreign ministers were held in Slovenia, the current president of the EU Council. Although scheduled, they featured discussions of emergency agenda. Afghanistan was its central focus to sweep all the other issues under the carpet.
The foreign ministers particularly discussed ways to evacuate EU citizens and Afghans who failed to escape before the Americans left the Kabul airport; ways to prevent a new tide of refugees and 2015-style "migration crisis"; and whether to ignore the new Afghan authorities or make terms with them.
As a result, the Europeans decided to negotiate, although an official recognition of the Taliban (deemed a terrorist organization and banned in Russia) is out of question as yet. At least, EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrel, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and a number of other European politicians have already spoken out in favor of negotiations with the Taliban. A dialogue is needed if only for completing evacuation, by civilian means this time. And also, perhaps, for reducing the flow of refugees from the country.
While the EU foreign ministers were discussing all these pressing challenges, the meeting of the European defense ministers raised an equally relevant but at the same time quite visionary issue of creating a unified army of the European Union. This threadbare issue has been discussed by the EU almost since its very foundation, that is, since the European Coal and Steel Community era. However, the Europeans have so far proved unable to achieve much effect in the matter.
Over the last few years, the EU has clearly intensified its integration in the defense sphere and even created a number of command and financial structures necessary to conduct its own military operations. But, as the recent Afghan events have shown, it failed to come as viable, with each country compelled to evacuate people from Kabul independently, as a matter of fact. The EU has not come up big in Afghanistan, with coordination through a common foreign and defense policy having failed, deputy chairman of the CDU/CSU faction in the German Bundestag Katja Leikert said, among other things.
As such, the Europeans do already openly avow their military incompetency made them hinge upon the Americans in Afghanistan: the Slovenian meeting saw German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer say that the Europeans almost did not object the US decision to withdraw over the lack of their own capacity. This dependence eventually led to a partial evacuation failure: the number of those evacuated by the EU countries from Kabul is a far cry from what they planned, including their own citizens.
The European Union is now quite naturally faced with the question of what needs to be done to prevent any recurrence. The obvious answer is to develop its own military capabilities. For this reason, even before the Slovenia meeting, Josep Borrel revived the idea of creating a European rapid-deployment force put forward by a number of EU countries earlier this year and put up for discussion by the defense ministers these days. According to Borrel, Afghanistan may prompt a "breakthrough" in the European Union's defense integration.
Not everyone in the EU shares this integration enthusiasm however, and most of the Eastern European countries engaged in the meeting have appeared skeptical about establishing a unified rapid-deployment force. However, others can circumvent this skepticism, which was particularly pointed out by Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, as she mentioned Article 44 of the Treaty on European Union. The article enables a group of EU countries to carry out military operations on its behalf as a coalition of willing states, following approval by Council vote.
Apparently, the European Union will develop defense integration along this very path in the nearest future. In Slovenia, the defense ministers agreed to once again discuss specific proposals on the matter at their upcoming November meeting, with the final decision to be made early next year. France will then preside over the EU Council, which multiplies chances of success, as Paris is one of the strongest European defense integration advocates.