EU unveils plans for 'military Schengen zone'

AFP
The EU yesterday launched plans to make it easier to move troops and equipment around the bloc as Europe seeks to boost its defenses.
AFP

The EU yesterday launched plans to make it easier to move troops and equipment around the bloc as Europe seeks to boost its defenses.

Officials want to create a “military Schengen zone” similar to the European Union’s civilian passport-free travel area by simplifying customs checks and bureaucracy that currently cause hold-ups for NATO forces and vehicles trying to cross borders.

Top NATO commanders say the changes are essential if Europe is to have a serious deterrent to potential Russian aggression, warning that cumbersome checks are hampering their ability to move resources quickly.

Working with EU member states, over the next year the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, will carry out an assessment of existing bureaucratic hurdles and transport infrastructure to see where and how improvements can be made.

“We must be able to quickly deploy troops either within the EU or rapidly launch military operations abroad and to do so we need infrastructure that is fit for purpose,” EU transport commissioner Violeta Bulc said.

The EU plans do not mention Russia specifically but tensions with Moscow have been high since the Ukraine crisis and Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 — and the current diplomatic spat over the nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy in Britain has done nothing to calm matters.

“There is a practical dimension to these proposals, but the end purpose is obvious as soon as tensions rise with Russia,” a European diplomat said.Another warned that “we can no longer say that conflict in Europe is impossible.”

According to US General Ben Hodges, commander of US ground forces in Europe at the time, in October last year, in order to create an effective deterrent to Moscow, NATO needed to move forces “as quick or quicker than Russian Federation forces.”

“What we have called for is something similar to a military Schengen zone. To have that same sort of freedom of movement a truck full of Polish apples has,” Hodges said.

The Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, annexed and ruled by the Soviet Union for decades and deeply aware of the threat from their giant neighbor, have already created a military mini-Schengen among themselves, Elisabeth Braw of the Atlantic Council think tank said.

NATO has deployed around 4,000 troops along with tanks and artillery in Poland and the Baltic countries both as a sign of determination and to be ready if a crisis erupts, but elsewhere, the pattern is erratic.

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