The official green light will arrive in less than a month but the political and substantial green light has been acquired: the EU is ready for the Aspides mission, the military operation that will lead European ships to defend merchant ships from Houthi attacks.
The green light arrived during a Foreign Affairs Council which certified the leading role of Italy, but also of France and Germany, in the organization of the mission. It is «mainly defense policy. 15% of world trade passes through there, preventing the passage of products means a disproportionate increase in prices, we cannot accept the threat of the Houthis in the Red Sea. Italy is there, it takes responsibility”, underlined the Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni. In Brussels, Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani made the government’s line clear. «We are not waging war on anyone, but the defense of merchant ships is a duty», he underlined. Shortly before, the document with which Italy, Germany and France outlined the general contours of the mission, underlining its absolute necessity, had ended up on the table of the Foreign Affairs Council. Europe’s response has been positive. “We have agreed on the start of the EU mission in the Red Sea, now we have to work towards unanimity on when”, explained the high representative Josep Borrell, ensuring that he wanted to complete the process for starting the operation as soon as possible. The official green light from the 27 Foreign Ministers is expected on February 19. The Aspides mission, Tajani recalled, will indeed be defensive, but “seriously defensive”. And it will have to operate on a large stretch of sea which in fact extends from the Suez Canal to the Strait of Hormuz, where the Emasoh/Agenor mission currently operates, which will probably be incorporated into the new operation. The EU mission’s dossier will soon also end up in Parliament. M5S and Pd, although without announcing opposition to the initiative, have asked for a government information.
Tajani: “Parliament will be informed”
«Defense Minister Crosetto should report on the rules of engagement and perimeter of the mission», stated the leader of the dem group in the Defense commission in the Chamber Stefano Graziano. Tajani assured that Parliament will be informed, although “it is not mandatory”, having already given the green light to the mission in the Strait of Hormuz. “For this defense mission we don’t have to go through Parliament, but for a mission like the US one we do,” Meloni recalled in reference to the Prosperity Guardian which instead carried out attacks on Yemeni territory. The rules of engagement will be the subject of the technical work of the Politico-Military Group (Pmg) in Brussels and therefore of the Political and Security Committee (Cops). Italy will certainly send a frigate, which could even be two with a rotation. The discussion is open on the general command: it is not excluded that it will go to Italy but it is also possible that it will be French, with the note that the Agenor operation, in 2020, was born precisely on the initiative of Paris. Participation in Aspides will not apply to everyone. Ireland and Spain will not send ships. The states participating in Agenor will be part of the mission: in addition to Italy, France and Germany there are Portugal, Greece, Denmark and the Netherlands. For Italy, the mission is more necessary than ever. Rome, whose exports to Asian countries are massive, could lose 5.5 billion due to the Houthis’ action. Added to this is the risk of a new price boom: insurance for ships transiting the Suez Canal could reach worrying heights, the alternative is to circumnavigate Africa, with a dramatic impact on transport times. But the initiative of Rome, Paris and Berlin, government sources recall, also marks an important step forward in the collaboration between the three countries after the stormy months of the migration emergency. And, Tajani underlined, the operation determines “a considerable step towards true European defense”.