European Union foreign ministers have agreed on a plan to create a military training headquarters as the body adopts a more assertive approach to military issues in the wake of Britain’s decision to exit the continental bloc.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said Monday that the new European command center for foreign missions would help the bloc better manage its operations abroad.
"Today we decided to establish a MPCC (Military Planning Conduct and Capability facility) which will command the EU's non-executive military missions," Mogherini told reporters, adding that the center would provide a "more efficient approach to the existing military training missions we have."
Reports said the training headquarters would be responsible for three non-executive operations in Africa, namely in Mali, the Central African Republic and Somalia. The operations would not involve the use of force other than in self-defense.
The EU had already run separate command centers for executive operations in the central Mediterranean and off the Horn of Africa.
The decision to create the new military center came despite traditional opposition by states like Britain. London has insisted that the EU should not waste resources by creating similar structures like NATO.
EU officials, including Mogherini, have repeatedly assured members that NATO would remain the primary defense for Europe. However, the former Italian foreign minister said on Monday that the approval for the new headquarters was a huge step forward after decades of division on what defense role the EU should adopt.
"This is one of the fields where traditionally we have had in the history of the European Union more divisiveness -- since the Fifties we were struggling in the defense field," she said.
British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon repeated previous calls by the UK government, saying EU members should continue "to cooperate more closely with NATO to avoid unnecessary duplication and structures."
German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said, however, that the creation of the new command center "was long overdue."
"We took a very important step toward a European security and defense union, because we have become very concrete," said the German official.
The plan for a new military headquarters in Europe comes amid concerns that Britain's departure from the EU could risk undermining the continent’s defense strategy.
Britain has been a big contributor to EU-led operations, with reports saying that London pays about 15 percent of the costs.