Germany's foreign minister has declared that German troops are ready to lead an EU mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but if critics from within the government have their way, that won't be the last word.
Politicians from both the coalition and the opposition oppose the mission
The deployment of a European Union force to safeguard a series of elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo this summer is becoming ever more likely after a number of EU countries said they would make troops available, and Germany agreed to take a leadership role.
But the mission must still be approved by the German parliament, where reaching agreement among lawmakers appears to be far from a done deal.While for Chancellor Angela Merkel, the mission to the DRC is symbolic of Europe’s determination to help Africa, this noble aim has not been embraced by a substantial number of parliamentarians.
Bernd Siebert, a conservative member of the Bundestag's defense committee, said that skepticism prevails even among the military experts in parliament.
"I don't know anybody in the committee who is euphorically in favor of this assignment," he said. "We are all very reluctant and careful."
Worrying many German deputies is the question of how a relatively small force of just 1,500 troops can ensure stability in a country the size of the entire European continent.
Johannes Kaars, a Social Democrat parliamentarian, has also taken issue with the plan to station a majority of the soldiers in neighboring Gabon or in a ship off its coast, saying this would make the undertaking ridiculous.
"I will work to prevent a majority," Kaars said. "Arguments that the EU wants to stabilize the DRC and that European credibility is at stake simply don't go together with the deployment of just 1,500 troops, of which only about 700 will actually be based in Kinshasa."
Germa n comma n d i n Potsdam
Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has said Germany is ready to lead
At least 10 EU countries are expected to take part in the Congo mission with Germany and France making up the bulk of the force, contributing 500 troops each. Germany would command overall mission headquarters in Potsdam, near Berlin, with France taking charge on the ground in Kinshasa.
The mission has come about at the request of the United Nations, which already has 17,000 peacekeepers in the DRC. During a fact-finding trip to Kinshasa, Social Democrat MP and defense expert Rolf Kramer was convinced that EU and UN together can make a difference, and is now appealing to his fellow MPs to approve the mission.
"I'm now fully convinced that the EU presence makes sense because it will show the Congolese population that the international community wants to help them, and it tells those seeking to make trouble that we are here to prevent that," Kramer said.
Germany's strongest opposition party, the free-market liberal FDP, has already said it won't approve the deployment, while the Green Party has issues several conditions it wants to be met before it gives its approval.
The Greens want the mission to be limited to just four months, and are seeking government assurances that the EU force would remain strictly neutral even if conflicts were to erupt during the elections.
The vote in the Bundestag is scheduled for early April.