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In early September, Lithuanian Defense Minister Raimundas Karoblis, during a meeting with the heads of the defense departments of the EU in Tallinn, called on the leadership of the European Union to create a "military Schengen zone." “Many states support such a project, and its practical implementation is important for both the EU and NATO," he said.
Indeed, the idea of allowing free movement of troops and supplies across Europe is not new. NATO leadership, including Lieutenant-General Ben Hodges, commander of US forces in Europe, raised this issue back in 2015, when the United States increased the number of exercises on the continent. Subsequently, in 2016, former Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni has put forward this idea on the eve of the EU summit in Bratislava.
"Military Schengen zone" is a successful plan, which is aimed to optimize bureaucratic procedures at the borders and improve infrastructure that must cope with heavy military equipment, says Anthony Lawrence, an expert at the International Center for Defense and Security (Tallinn).
This ambitious defense initiative will be financed through the European Defense Fund (EDF), which may become a kind of response to the calls of US President Donald Trump to fulfill the established defense spending within NATO. Coordination of joint projects and initiatives will take place within the framework of the newly established Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO).
At the same time, the creation of a "military Schengen zone" is not a simple mission. First, not all NATO members are part of today's Schengen agreement - the US, Turkey and Montenegro need individual agreements. In addition, Norway and Iceland have only an associated status. In addition, we should not forget about the need to review agreements with Great Britain after Brexit. Therefore, despite practical motivation, the "military Schengen zone" requires considerable political will.
Nevertheless, the "military Schengen zone" could use the experience of the European Air Transport Command (EATC), which was established by the Netherlands, France, Belgium and Germany and later joined by Spain, Italy and Luxembourg in 2010. This command center enables operational control of military transport aircraft of seven countries in Western Europe. As of January 2015, the combined air forces subordinated to the EATC accounted for 75% of the European air transport capacity. In addition, at the beginning of June this year, the European Airborne Tactical Center (ETAC), which is a significant step forward in European defense cooperation, officially began operating in the framework of the EATC on the basis of the Air Force in Zaragoza, Spain.
We should not forget about the 11th airmobile brigade (from the Netherlands), which in 2014 has been promptly subordinated to the Bundeswehr's rapid reaction force and represents the most far-sighted form of military integration in Europe today.
As for Ukraine, the prospects for obtaining the so-called "military visa" look dreamy, but experts do not rule out involving Ukraine in cooperation. “The idea of "military Schengen zone" is at a very early stage of the discussion, although in the future, third states can be involved. NATO member countries and EU member states must independently solve many issues first," sums up Anthony Lawrence.
At the same time, Olexander Musienko, head of the Center for Military and Legal Studies, notes that Ukraine must "continue to deepen cooperation with the North Atlantic alliance." Despite the desire to become a member of the EU and integrate into the Euro-Atlantic space, at the current stage, Ukraine should improve its own legislation in the framework of conducting field exercises of the Lithuanian-Polish-Ukrainian brigade or other international exercises with the participation of NATO partners.