The informal meeting of EU defense ministers in Palma de Majorca on 24-25 February was overshadowed by the absence of Catherine Ashton, the High Representative for the Union in Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, who chose instead to go to Moscow yesterday and to today's inauguration of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. Her absence prompted French Defense Minister Herve Morin to remark on the irony of NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen attending the first EU defense ministers meeting since the Lisbon Treaty which created the newly expanded position she occupies came into force. Rasmussen's presence shows the importance he attaches to NATO-EU defense cooperation, while Ashton's absence has been interpreted by some as her lack of interest in European defense and security policy.
Spanish Ministry of Defense photo of Rasmussen and Chacon
Nevertheless, the meeting made progress, notably in the area of European airlift. Carme Chacon, defense minister of Spain, which hosted the meeting as the current holder of the six-month rotating EU presidency, noted "major progress" in the negotiations with EADS on the A400M which she hoped would lead to an agreement in the coming weeks.
The Belgian, Dutch, French and German defense ministers gave the symbolic green light for the European Air Transport Command (EATC) by unveiling its emblem at the meeting. The EATC will be headquartered in Eindhoven, Netherlands and will number 160 multinational personnel who will coordinate 200 transport and tanker aircraft. It will take up its duties in the summer, followed by its official opening in September.
EU defense ministers and Rasmussen discussed cooperation between their two organizations, including in fighting piracy off the Somali coast, airlift and countering improvised explosive devices (CIED). The Spanish presidency of the EU plans to host Exercise Azor 2010 to practice operating helicopters in dry desert climates and has opened its CIED center of excellence to both the EU and NATO.
EU defense ministers also agreed to increase European rapid reaction capabilities during humanitarian crises like the earthquake in Haiti.