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`Old Europe' presses ahead
with plans for an EU army

by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, UK Telegraph, 4/30/03


"Old Europe" threw down the gauntlet at the feet of Britain, the United States and the Atlantic Alliance at a mini-summit yesterday, unveiling plans for a new Euro-army with its own military headquarters.

France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg -- described by some in the US as the "Axis of Weasel" -- vowed to press ahead with a full-fledged defence union, brushing aside warnings that the move would entrench the European Union's bitter divisions over Iraq and could lead to the break-up of Nato.

A new rapid reaction force would be built around the existing Franco-German brigade, taking in Belgian commandos and units from Luxembourg. It would answer to a headquarters in the Brussels suburb of Tervuren and be ready for joint operations next year.

Jacques Chirac, the French president, insisted that the plans would bolster Nato by making Europe a more credible partner for Washington, and denied there was an attempt to set up a rival to Nato's operational command. "The aim is not to decouple European Union and Atlantic Alliance defence efforts," he said.

But M Chirac gave out mixed signals when he gently rebuked Tony Blair for advocating a "one polar world" and warning of a new Cold War if Europe tried to become a rival power to America.

"Quite naturally a multi-polar world is being created, whether one likes it or not. It's inevitable. For balance to exist, there will have to be a strong Europe. Relations between the European Union and the United States will have to be a partnership between equals," said M Chirac.

He invited all 25 of the EU's current and future states to join the new defence core, but the so-called New Europe camp -- led by Britain, Spain, Italy and Poland -- has reacted with deep suspicion. Ana Palacio, the Spanish foreign minister, said the proposals were "counter-productive" and would cause needless division at a delicate time.

Nato came close to buckling earlier this year when France, Belgium and Germany refused to sanction delivery of Patriot missiles to Turkey, a fellow member. A Nato spokesman reacted cautiously to the new plans yesterday, saying he was "concerned about the risk of unnecessary duplication".

The four leaders called for the creation of a "European Command for strategic air transport" by 2004. The new force would have to rely on US airlift or leased Ukrainian planes until the Airbus A400M military transport aircraft was ready for service later in the decade.

There will be a "joint European protection capability" against weapons of mass destruction, a tactical training centre for pilots and helicopter crews, and an "EU-FAST" emergency relief unit for humanitarian crises.

Separately, the group have proposed a European weapons procurement agency and a "solidarity clause" binding EU states to face all forms of risk together as elements to be included in the new European constitution.

It was unclear how the new machinery would fit into the EU's existing defence structure. Brussels already has a rapid reaction force, and military staff, which can draw on up to 60,000 personnel from member states. It began its first mission in Macedonia last month. But it is limited to peacekeeping and relies on Nato operational command.

While superficially similar, the new force is a different animal. It will be a fully-integrated Euro-army, and seems intended for combat in the future.

The picture is further confused by the parallel defence plans agreed by Mr Blair and M Chirac at Le Touquet in February calling for a joint Anglo-French aircraft carrier battle group.

Copyright © 2003 Telegraph
Reprinted for Fair Use Only.

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