EU, CSDP and Mali: an increasing French disappointment?
19 February 2013, 12:00 am
Dr Nicola Chelotti
On the 17 January 2013 the Council of the European Union established a Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) military training mission (EUTM Mali) to specifically train and re-organise the Malian Armed Forces, in order to contribute to the restoration of the country's territorial integrity.
While providing training and advice on command and control, logistics, human resources and international humanitarian law, the mission will not participate in combat operations. The EU has been closely monitoring the situation in Mali since January 2012, when several rebel groups in the north of the country rose up against the central government, and March 2012, when a group of junior soldiers deposed the democratically elected government of Amadou Toumani Touré and suspended the constitution.
EU foreign policy decision-makers have been consulting continuously and trying to coordinate in order produce a common, coherent, and effective EU response. There is indeed a widespread and growing consensus that Mali is a strategic and important area for Europe as a whole. Mali is considered part of Europe's "broader neighbourhood", whose stabilization and peace are key priorities for EU foreign policy. Similarly, negative spillovers on migration, energy supply, food emergency, deterioration of the humanitarian situation and terrorism are widely mentioned as top concerns for the EU.
And yet, despite rumours that an EU military mission could be launched, the response of the EU was certainly limited, small, and modest. And it was also late: the deployment of the EUTM Mali has been accelerated in reaction to the current crisis. It is not clear what exactly the trainers would do, since most Malian troops are already on the front, fighting against the rebels. Instead, as the crisis worsened, the French government launched (January 2013) a combat operation in Mali, with land and air forces - and the military logistic support from other EU member states. The EU and other EU capitals have expressed clear praise and political support. In other words, despite the relatively strong consensus, in Brussels as well as in the capitals of the member states, that stabilising Mali is clearly in the EU's interest, the current crisis management operation is a unilateral French, and not a CSDP, initiative.
The CSDP was/is still portrayed as (and, often, more or less implicitly criticized for being) an essentially French product: France was certainly a key player in the emergence of a CSDP, and behind all the major developments and missions of EU defence policy. Additionally, there is often a widespread suspicion that France tries to upload its policy preferences to CSDP missions - with the objective, among others, to conceal French national interests. And, allegedly, this is nowhere more pressing than in Africa's French policy.
However, there is another, somewhat opposite, and increasingly worrying (for the CSDP) risk - that France would start to distance itself from the CSDP itself. French policy-makers are becoming increasingly disappointed and frustrated with the other member states (especially, Germany): getting the EU act in international politics has become increasingly difficult and complicated. As the former French Foreign minister has recently wrote in a report for the President of the French Republic, "Unless there is a strong reawakening of political determination to make Europe a global power, to prevent it from becoming powerless, and dependent, all of the arrangements for the Europe of Defense will be nothing more than incomplete or lifeless words on paper".
The crisis in Mali, and the EU's response to it, can be also read in this light, and cast further shadows over the (present and the) future of the CSDP.
1 Vedrine, Hubert (2012), "Report for the President of the French Republic on the Consequences of France's Return to NATO's Integrated Military Command, On the Future of Transatlantic Relations, and the Outlook for the Europe of Defense", p. 23