Diplomats discuss EU military coordination against Ebola

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European Union diplomats will discuss a plan to give the EU a coordinating role for European military missions countering the spread of Ebola in West Africa.

EU officials and diplomats said the plan proposed by foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton lists several options to step up and coordinate efforts by the bloc’s 28 countries. It could include cooperation among military personnel deployed by member states for rescue missions and for building field hospitals.

Britain and France, the bloc’s main military powers, are among EU and other states that have pledged military and civilian personnel alongside cash and medical supplies to combat the disease.

It is unclear how far London and Paris would support an EU coordinating role and diplomats who spoke of the proposal said it may run into stiff resistance from some member states.

EU cooperation in the military field usually takes the shape of a formal mission under the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP). But one EU official said that this was not being considered for now. Diplomats note that preparing formal protocols for such missions typically takes many months.

Envoys are instead being asked to consider an “innovative” approach, the official said, whereby Ashton’s EU diplomatic service, the EEAS, would coordinate military airlifts and other support operations against the deadly virus. Ashton will be replaced next month by Italy’s Federica Mogherini.

Under the proposal, the coordinating role would be played by the EU military staff, a body directly under the control of the EU foreign affairs chief. This approach would spare the long negotiations and bureaucratic steps that precede the launch of a full EU military mission, the official said.

However, consensus support for such a plan “is far from guaranteed,” one diplomat said.

On Thursday, EU health ministers are holding an emergency meeting on measures to increase precautions at airports. Ebola will also be high on the agenda for a meeting of EU foreign ministers on Oct. 20.