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EU's future rapid reaction force needs new solutions to overcome historical obstacles

Forging a viable ‘rapid deployment capability' (RDC) of up to 5,000 troops lies at the heart of the European Union's new draft strategy blueprint, known as the Strategic Compass, but many potential stumbling blocks lie in the way. Common funding for the RDC's exercises and deployment, faster decision-making, and focused capability development among the member states will be acid tests of its success.

Unveiled and reviewed by EU foreign and defence ministers in Brussels on 15 November, the 28-page draft lays down a tight deadline of 2025 for getting the RDC – probably a mixture of existing EU Battle Groups (EUBGs) and future-designated national military capabilities – ready for deployment. The RDC's composition would be modular and tailored, as derived from scenarios still to be defined.

Asked if the 2025 deadline was achievable, given the repeated failed attempts by national capitals to agree common deployable costs for the EUBGs since their creation in 2007, deputy secretary general for security and defence policy at the EU's foreign policy wing, the European External Action Service (EEAS) Charles Fries told a 17 November defence policy conference in Brussels that the Strategic Compass lays down “very pragmatic steps” and benchmarks.

“Our reasoning is precisely to have a phased approach to dealing with the problems the battle groups suffered: lack of deployment funding, lack of interaction, and the EU's slow decision-making,” said Fries. “The member states do seriously want to see if these can be changed, and the Compass suggests ways to substantially modify the battle groups' parameters, with specific timelines.”

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