Europe's new police force could be in action in trouble spots worldwide as early as this year, France's defence minister said this week during its inauguration by ministers from the five participating EU countries.
EU ministers at the inauguration of the European Gendarmerie Force
The new European Gendarmerie will be headquartered in Vicenza, northern Italy, but is equipped with a rapid-reaction element capable of deploying 800 troops within 30 days' notice anywhere in the world.
France's Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said she envisaged that the new force could be deployed as early as this year.
The new force "will have various opportunities to deploy in 2006, whether it will be in the Balkans or other regions of the world," she told journalists.
Under Italian leadership
The new force could be a tool in the fight against terrorism
The force will be ready to intervene in situations where law and order needs to be restored in post-conflict situations, or to help in transitions from military to civilian operations.
It can be deployed by the EU, and also be ready to assist UN, NATO and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) operations.
Headquarters staff in Vicenza will consist of 30 officers from the five countries -- France, Italy, The Netherlands, Portugal and Spain -- led by Colonel Pietro Barbano of Italy's Carabinieri.
It will search for war criminals
Barbaro described the new force as "robust, capable of intervening in crises of all kinds, from the military engagement phase to the return of stability."
He said it would be used to fight organized crime and terrorism and could aid in the "search for war criminals."
Police could be asked by the UN to investigate human rights violations
The rapid-reaction unit, known as EUROGENDFOR, will be commanded by French General Gerard Deanaz. Its 800-strong contingent will be able to call on reinforcements of up to 2,300 if necessary.
It is due to hold land exercises near Madrid in April after a preliminary exercise in June last year in Saint Astier in southwestern France.
Called an important step
Alliot-Marie and her Italian and Dutch counterparts, Antonio Martino and Henk Kamp, as well as the interior ministers of Spain and Portugal, Jose Suarez and Antonio da Costa, took part in the inauguration ceremony.
In a joint statement, the ministers described the creation of the force as "an important step" in establishing a European defence system.
The force was established in September 2004 in the Dutch town of Noorwijk to include the five EU states which maintain paramilitary police forces.
Membership is drawn from the paramilitary forces of theparticipating countries, Italy's Carabinieri, France's Gendarmerie, Spain's La Guardia Civil, Portugal's Guardia Nacional Republicana and the Dutch Royal Constabulary.