Italy, Spain sign on to bid to boost EU defence

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Italy and Spain have joined a bid by France, Germany and Poland to bolster a common EU defence policy in spite of Britain's refusal, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said Friday.

"We have signed and sent to (EU foreign policy chief) Catherine Ashton a 'letter from the five' -- France, Germany, Spain, Italy and Poland -- on strengthening European defence," Sikorski told journalists.

"This is the continuation of efforts by Poland to make defence a key issue in European integration," he added.

The signatories refused to divulge the content of the joint letter, but a diplomatic source said it called for the creation of common defence structures.

"We must develop these projects even without British support," added the source, who asked not to be identified.

In July, Britain rejected plans for a permanent EU military headquarters, putting it at odds with its ally France amid stalled efforts to launch a common EU defence policy.

"The United Kingdom will not agree to such a permanent OHQ (operational headquarters)," British Foreign Secretary William Hague said at the time.

"We will not agree to it now. We will not agree to it in the future. That is a red line for us," he said after London applied its veto power against the proposal under EU rules.

Voicing London's traditional attachment to the transatlantic alliance with the United States, Britain's chief diplomat said an EU military headquarters would be costly and create wasteful duplication with NATO.

The creation of a permanent HQ was part of a report presented to the ministers by Ashton in a bid to breathe new life into EU defence policy.

But Hague said he was "unable to welcome" the report because of the headquarters plan. The ministers failed to issue any statement on defence policy at the end of their talks.

In her report, Ashton said the current system posed organisational problems because it relies on five national headquarters spread across Europe: in Germany, France, Greece, Italy and Britain.

The report also called for sharing defence capacities, improving EU-NATO relations and operational engagements by EU tactical groups.

© 2011 AFP

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