EU states back naval Red Sea mission

European Union member states have given initial backing to a naval mission intended to protect ships from Houthi attacks in the Red Sea, European diplomats said on Tuesday January 16th.

The diplomats said that the EU’s Political and Security Committee, which is responsible for preparing foreign and defence policy, had given its initial support for the mission, which is intended to work with “like-minded partners”.

The EU hopes to establish it within just over a month, by February 19th. It would become operational “soon afterwards”.

The lack of a sense of urgency annoyed several diplomats within the EU, given the tensions in the Red Sea and the rapidity of developments. They said off the record that they hoped the process could be fast-tracked. EU foreign ministers will discuss the matter on January 22nd.

The European External Action Service (EEAS), the EU’s diplomatic arm, had proposed the mission. It would not comment publicly on the timetable or the state of the ongoing discussions.

Operation Prosperity Guardian, formed in December, has not been to the full liking of several European countries, who feel that it is a little too much under US control. One diplomat told Reuters that “the issue is always the command and control, and in an EU/NATO framework each and every nation keeps political control. In a ‘coalition of the willing’, the framework nation is in control”.

Three European diplomats said the mission would initially see three vessels under EU command as part of the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). Two diplomats said France and Italy, which already have warships in the region, along with Germany, which planned to send the frigate Hesse, would contribute first.

France has said its Languedoc warship was already coordinating with OPG and that it was sharing intelligence. The Languedoc has already used missiles to shoot down drones in the Red Sea and the EU mission would approve that, two diplomats said.

The mission would be financed by the EU. Countries could then rotate ships, contribute as they see fit or just give tacit approval, the diplomats said, adding that there was still a need to define exactly the rules of engagement beyond patrolling. There will also be some debate as to how the new mission would fit in with other EU missions off the coast of Somalia and in the Strait of Hormuz, the strategic entrance to the energy-rich Gulf region – notably EUNAVFOR’s long-running Operation Atalanta.

One area for discussion could be whether vessels would have the go-ahead to board vessels suspected of carrying weapons to the Houthis. Italy, Spain and France did not take part in the US/UK attacks late last Thursday on Houthi land resources, neither did they sign a statement released by 10 countries justifying the attacks. The Netherlands, Germany and Denmark did sign