EU 'big three' to map military plans

16th February 2004, Comments 0 comments

BRUSSELS, Feb 16 (AFP) - Britain, France and Germany head into summit talks this week on the back of unprecedented cooperation on the military front which is finally putting flesh on the bones of the EU's common defence policy.

BRUSSELS, Feb 16 (AFP) - Britain, France and Germany head into summit talks this week on the back of unprecedented cooperation on the military front which is finally putting flesh on the bones of the EU's common defence policy.

Their burgeoning military alliance is expected to be one of the themes addressed by Tony Blair, Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder when they meet in Berlin on Wednesday.

The three countries - the largest and most powerful in the European Union - have been trying to rebuild their ties after falling out spectacularly over the US-led war in Iraq last year.

Their rapprochement bore fruit at a Blair-Chirac summit in November where the British prime minister and French president announced plans to create rapid reaction forces deployable at short notice to hotspots, notably in Africa.

Germany has now come on board the Franco-British initiative, diplomats said last week, to create battle groups of about 1,500 troops which could be dispatched rapidly to flash-point areas on behalf of the EU.

The troop contingents, in particular ready to take on missions in support of the United Nations, would be deployable within 15 days and able to remain on the ground for a month, diplomats said.

The initiative is based directly on experience of the EU's first-ever military mission outside Europe, in the Democratic Republic of Congo last summer, when a French-led force helped quell fighting in the Bunia region.

In December the EU adopted plans for an independent military planning cell proposed by Britain, France and Germany which would seek to enhance the bloc's defence capability.

The unit will be based with the EU's existing military staff in Brussels, where NATO also has its headquarters.

Blair has been at pains to reassure Washington that the EU initiatives will not rival NATO, the US-led military alliance that forms the bedrock of Europe's defence.

But Chirac and the German chancellor are known to favour beefing up the EU's own ability to act in the military field. The bloc, however, does not yet have the means to match their ambitions.

The EU originally wanted to create a rapid-reaction force of 60,000, but this has been scaled back because military capabilities do not stretch to the soldiers and equipment needed.

Nevertheless with the backing of its three most powerful nations, the EU is now in a much better position to advance its fledgling common defence policy, which is widely seen as a non-starter without British involvement.

© AFP

                                                              Subject: France news

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