During the first Gulf War, the UK’s Royal Air Force (RAF) and France’s Armée de l’Air et de l’Espace (FA&SF) worked very closely together on a range of operational activities. Soon after this, the same two air forces found themselves working together again, on missions in support of United Nations forces in the former Yugoslavia. Further close cooperation followed in operations over Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The FASF and RAF realized that there was a need for an organisation to improve inter-air force cooperation and to work on issues relating to interoperability. Thus it was at the Chartres Summit, on 18 November 1994, that the first announcement was made of the intention to create the Franco-British European Air Group (FBEAG). Even at that stage, it was foreseen that other European air forces might wish to join the organisation – so the word “European” was included in the title right from the beginning.
On 27th June 1995, France and the UK jointly declared the formal establishment of the FBEAG. Shortly afterwards, Air Commodore Wright (RAF) was appointed as the first Deputy Director of FBEAG, with Colonel Beck FAF as the first Chief of Staff and Group Captain Wood RAF as the first Vice COS. Then on the 20th of September of that year, the first meeting of the FBEAG Working Group (WG) was held at the FBEAG headquarters (HQ), located at RAF High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, UK.
On the 13th of October 1995, General André Nicolau was appointed as the first Director of the Group. Shortly afterwards, on 30th October, the FBEAG was formally inaugurated at a joint ceremony, by French President Jacques Chirac and British Prime Minister John Major. That same day, the FBEAG Steering Group (SG) held its inaugural meeting. The SG, in effect a committee comprising the Chiefs of the Air Staffs of each member nation as well as senior representatives of the ministries of Defence and Foreign Affairs, meets regularly every year to make decisions regarding the Group’s policies and future work.
During 1996, the FBEAG worked mainly on strengthening existing ties and cooperation between the FAF and the RAF. Italy became the first other nation to apply for membership, and in early 1997 Germany accepted “correspondent” status – that is, to send observers to EAG activities, but not to participate fully in decision-making. Soon afterwards, the Italian Air Force (ITAF) also appointed an observer.
At the November 1997 meeting of the Steering Group, it was decided to invite Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain to become “correspondent” members, along with Germany and Italy. Shortly afterwards, on the 1st of January 1998, the FBEAG formally changed its title to the “European Air Group” (EAG).
Meanwhile, work proceeded on constructing a new building at RAF High Wycombe, to house the headquarters of the EAG. The UK’s Secretary of State for Defence, the Right Honourable George Robertson MP, formally opened the building on the 16th of June 1998. That same day, the EAG Steering Group held a meeting during which Italy announced her decision to become a full member. On the 6th of July 1998, an agreement was reached between the French and British governments regarding the precise wording of the required Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) officially creating the Group, and the document was formally signed. In September of the same year, the first members of the ITAF joined the permanent staff of the EAG HQ.
On 16th June 1999, the UK and France signed a Protocol amending the EAG IGA permitting other nations to join the EAG. At the 1999 EAG SG meeting held in Rome on the 12th of July, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain all confirmed their wish to transfer to full membership, and the EAG formally became a 7-nation organisation. Staff from Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain have since joined the EAG HQ.