12 December 2003
BRUSSELS – European Union leaders Friday approved a ground-breaking defence pact strengthening the bloc’s ability to mount independent military operations, diplomats said.
The deal, hammered out by Germany, France and Britain – and approved by an initially wary United States – is expected to boost a European Union summit struggling to overcome differences over a new constitution.
Leaders agreed on creating a military operations unit which will build on existing EU military planning structures.
Under the plan, an existing temporary EU “cell” inside NATO’s European headquarters, SHAPE, will become permanent. NATO will also maintain a liaison office at the EU
Europe’s new defence body will be responsible for independent non-NATO EU military missions, including police operations and civilian crisis management tasks. It could also take the lead for military missions where NATO chooses not to get involved.
The agreement, endorsed by all 25 existing and future EU member states, ends months of fraught discussions between Berlin, Paris and London on building up independent EU defence.
Throughout the talks, Britain demanded that the EU should not duplicate NATO military structures and capabilities.
London used this argument to sink earlier, more ambitious calls for creating a separate EU military headquarters in the Brussels suburb of Tervuren.
But even the more modest deal was described as a “gigantic step forward” by Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel.
“This is a starting point for real European defence,” Michel said.
In treaty discussions later, EU leaders will also discuss German and French calls for so-called “structured” defence cooperation.
This would allow a core group of countries to forge ahead in the military sector without waiting for all to agree.
The question of a mutual defence assistance clause is also up for debate, with the bloc’s non-NATO neutral states – Austria, Finland, Ireland and Sweden – insisting that such provisions take account of their specific status.
Neutral countries object to the idea of automatic mutual military assistance but leaders will find a formulation to bridge this difficulty, diplomats said.
Subject: German news