The European Commission yesterday discussed proposals to establish another civilian institution to allow the European Union to intervene beyond its borders. The proposed Rapid Reaction Facility would mobilize non-military personnel such as police, customs officers, and judges to go quickly to crisis areas. RFE/RL's Brussels correspondent Ahto Lobjakas reports.
Brussels, 12 April 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The European Union has taken the lessons of Kosovo very seriously over the last six months. It wants to be able to dispatch aid quickly to crisis areas without having to wait for the United States.
Last December, at a summit in Helsinki, EU leaders decided to set up a military force that could deploy within two months for peacekeeping or intervention. They also proposed three coordinating bodies -- a political and security committee, a military staff and a body of national military experts. These bodies first met last month.
In Lisbon, late last month, EU leaders agreed to set up a body for non-military crisis management. The Committee for Civilian Crisis Management should be set up by the end of June.
Now the European Commission has joined the effort, proposing to add another crisis management body. Yesterday the commission proposed the setting up of a Rapid Reaction Facility that would provide civilian assistance to areas in crisis outside the EU.
Gunnar Wiegand, the spokesman for EU External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten, emphasized that the new body would cut through bureaucratic red tape and allow speedy deployment of the kind of experts needed in crisis zones.
"[The proposal] foresees the creation of a facility which would allow us to very quickly -- that means in a matter of days or weeks, and not in a matter of months -- to mobilize civilian means that range from police forces to customs officials, to border patrol people, to judiciary and prosecutors, de-mining experts and so on."
The Rapid Reaction Facility is intended for short-term operations. It would have a time limit of nine months and a cost ceiling of 12 million euros ($11.5 million).
The commission says the new body would draw upon existing EU bodies that deal with such areas as human rights protection, election monitoring, institution building, humanitarian missions, and police training. It would also draw upon the experience the EU has amassed through its work in past crises in Bosnia, East Timor, and Kosovo.
The new body, the commission emphasized, would not deliver humanitarian aid, which is aimed at relieving individual suffering. Instead it would deliver expertise and aid for the civic structures necessary for social and economic stability, such as police and courts.
The commission says the Rapid Reaction Facility is aimed at increasing the visibility and efficiency of the EU's security policy. The initiative will, however, likely be seen also within the context of recent speculation regarding the diminishing influence of the European Commission, the executive body of the EU. European observers have pointed to possible friction between the EU's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, and its external affairs commissioner, Chris Patten. The leadership skills of the Commission President Romano Prodi were questioned by European media only last week.
Exactly where the new body will fit in the network of existing and planned crisis management bodies remains unclear. Particularly vague is the relationship between the Rapid Reaction Facility discussed by the commission yesterday and the Committee for Civilian Crisis Management proposed by EU leaders last month. While both are in planning stages only, the two bodies appear to be tackling similar mandates.