EU: Five countries establish a European paramilitary police force

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  • What will be its "rules of engagement"? What lines of accountability for its actions are there to be?

On 17 September 2004, the establishment of a European Gendarmerie Force (EGF) by five EU member states (France, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain) under a French proposal from 2003 was agreed in the Dutch town of Noordwick, with the signing of an agreement by the five countries' defence ministers.

The agreement will result in the creation of a permanent joint paramilitary police unit to be used for public order and backing up the military. The EGF headquarters will become operative next year in the north-eastern Italian town of Vicenza, and it will be the European gendarmerie's only permanent structure. It will initially be formed by 800 men (backed by 2,300 in reserve reserves), drawn from the countries' paramilitary police: the Gendarmerie National in France, the Arma dei Carabinieri in Italy, the Koninklijke Marechaussée in Holland, the Guarda Nacional Republicana in Portugal and the Guardia Civil in Spain.

Leadership will rotate, with the first head of the EGF being an Italian carabinieri general. Members of the EGF will be based in their own member states, but will be permanently available for deployment outside the EU's borders by the EU within a month, for EU peace maintenance or crisis management missions, although they may also be deployed by the EU at the request of the UN, NATO, OSCE or other international bodies.

Joint training courses for officers from the different countries will be organised, one of which took place last spring in France. The French, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian paramilitary police forces have been working closely since 1994 on organisation, new technologies, and taking part in joint exercises and training courses, often in Saint Astier (Bordeaux) in France, a training centre where the Italian carabinieri prepared for the G8 summit in Genoa in July 2001, where they were deployed under the command of the Tuscania parachute regiment.

Military and civilian units for "crisis management" already exist, and national paramilitary police units have been deployed in post-war situations in the past, as in Bosnia since 2003, and in Iraq in 2004. EU officials are already working in Bosnia with a view to replacing NATO's SFOR contingent with 7,000 European soldiers in December, which will be the first EU military mission after its interventions in Macedonia and Congo.

The agreement is open to other EU states, but the establishment of a five-country initiative shows the absence of an EU-wide consensus, with Austria and Belgium having recently disbanded their paramilitary police forces, and most other countries not possessing one. The Belgian defence minister expressed his interest, saying that Belgian military police officers may be used to participate in the initiative, whereas the German defence minister dismissed the possibility of Germany joining, by arguing that Germany draws a clear distinction between police and military functions. The Carabinieri in Italy and the Guardia Civil in Spain have been used in Iraq.

The official statement said:

Signature of Declaration of Intent for a European Gendarmerie Force

The Ministers of Defence of France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands signed a Declaration of Intent this morning concerning the establishment of a European Gendarmerie Force (EGF). The declaration was signed during the informal meeting of Ministers of Defence of the European Union in Noordwijk, The Netherlands.

The European Gendarmerie Force is a police force with military status. Although the EGF can conduct tasks throughout the spectrum of police missions, it is excellently suited to deployment during or immediately after a military operation for maintaining public order and safety and in situations where local police forces are not (sufficiently) deployable. It should also be possible for the rapidly-deployable EGF to conduct operations in support of the fight against organised crime and the protection of participants in civil missions. The EGF is a multinational unit that is not only allocated to the EU, but also to the UN, the OSCE and NATO. The initiative for establishing the EGF was taken in 2003 by the Minister of Defence of France, Mrs Alliot-Marie. The force headquarters in Vicenza (Italy) should be established in early 2005. The plan is for the EGF to become operational at the end of 2005.

The Dutch minister of Defence, Henk Kamp, who holds the chair of the EU, said that he was pleased, “that we could reach this milestone here in Noordwijk. I am certain that this force will become an important capability, bridging the gap between military forces and civil police forces”.

The EGF is will be part of the EU's "non-military crisis management" structure agreed after the Nice Summit which presumed a para-military force drawn from all member states.

Tony Bunyan, Statewatch editor, comments:

"This is an ad hoc initiative taken by five states brings together armed para-military units, some of which are infamous for their behaviour at protests. The EGF will be acting in the support of the military in the name of the EU as a whole. Military plans and the new EU Constitution would allow this force to be used inside the EU as well as outside.

What will be its "rules of engagement"? What lines of accountability for its actions are there to be?"

Sources: El País, 17.9.2004; RTBF, 17.9.2004; Il manifesto 18.9.2004; Arma dei Carabinieri website - International Cooperation:  See also: Global "policing" role for EU

Filed 21.9.04

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