Five nations today signed an agreement to set up a European Gendarmerie Force that would offer paramilitary support for international peacekeeping missions.
Speaking in the Dutch town of Noordwijk, ministers said the 3,000-strong force would tackle a damaging shortfall in recent peacekeeping operations by backing up military efforts to enforce public order, fight crime and train local police in the wake of a crisis.
“This force will become an important capability, bridging the gap between military forces and civil police,” said Dutch Defence Minister Henk Kamp. The force should be operational next year.
It will include elements from the French gendarmes, Italian Carabinieri and their equivalents from Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands.
The EGF will have a core of 800-900 members ready to deploy within 30 days and a pool of 2,300 reinforcements on standby. It will be based in Vicenza in north-eastern Italy.
Defence ministers from the five nations signed the agreement to set up the force on the sidelines of a meeting with their colleagues from all 25 European Union nations. The other EU countries will not participate because they do not have such paramilitary police.
“We will keep it open to other countries that don’t yet have gendarme forces but may want to join later,” said French Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie, who first suggested the idea of the European force last year.
Following experiences with peacekeeping in the Balkans, European planners say gendarme units are increasingly necessary.
The need was highlighted in March, when NATO troops were caught unaware by mob violence in Kosovo that left 19 people dead.
Efforts to contain the riots were hindered by constitutional restraints that prevented soldiers from some NATO nations from intervening to control a civil disturbance.
The police force would typically be made up of forces trained and equipped to handle riot control.
Officials said the European force could be made available to support NATO, the United Nations and other international organisations, as well as the EU’s own peace missions.
The defence ministers met for a second day in Noordwijk, and reviewed wider proposals to boost the EU’s military muscle, including plans to create elite ‘battlegroups’ for rapid deployment to international trouble spots.
In addition, they looked at arrangements for the bloc to launch its biggest military operation to date – taking over NATO’s peacekeeping mission in Bosnia.
NATO will hand over command of a 7,000-strong peacekeeping force in Bosnia to the EU in December.