BRUSSELS: The European Union on Friday unveiled plans to make it easier to move troops and military equipment around the bloc, in a bid to boost defence in the face of the growing threat posed by Russia.
EU officials will look to streamline customs checks that are currently causing delays as well as reviewing infrastructure plans to make sure that roads, bridges and railways are able to carry heavy military equipment such as tanks.
Senior NATO commanders have warned that cumbersome border bureaucracy is hampering their ability to move resources quickly, which in turn reduces their capacity to provide a serious deterrent to potential aggression from Russia.
The need for military movement around Europe declined after the Cold War, but the Ukraine crisis and Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014 has once again brought the threat from the east back into sharp focus.
European Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc said it was "high time" that military needs were once again taken into account in transport planning.
"The swift movement of military personnel and equipment is hindered by physical, legal and regulatory barriers," Bulc said.
"This creates inefficiencies in public spending, delays, disruptions, and above all a greater vulnerability."
- Upgrading infrastructure in the east -
A joint statement from EU members highlighted recent military exercises where customs problems and infrastructure limitations -- bridges not being able to support the weight of military vehicles, for instance -- had led to "delays, disruptions higher costs and increased vulnerability".
After an initial study period, the European Commission will propose an action plan by March 2018 for member states' endorsement.
NATO this week announced plans for a new logistics hub to improve the way it moves resources around Europe, but it needs the EU's help to improve transport networks.
Part of the work will be to assess transport links across Europe, particularly in formerly communist countries in the east, where NATO had no access during the Cold War.
"All the planning and visibility of infrastructure we had stops at the old internal German border," a NATO official said.
Once the Berlin Wall came down and eastern European countries joined the EU and NATO, there was seen to be no need to map the infrastructure and upgrade it for military use, the official explained.
Now a key priority for NATO is to ensure that equipment such as tanks can be moved quickly.
"Moving troops is very easy -- that's what Ryanair and EasyJet do every day by the thousands. What makes it difficult is the equipment, especially heavy equipment," the NATO official said.
A further complication is that many transport resources -- rail networks and ports in particular -- are now run by private businesses, making it harder to commandeer them for military use than when they were government-owned.