November 29, 2003

Deal to form EU military arm threatens transatlantic rift

From Anthony Browne in Naples and Philip Webster

BRITAIN has joined forces with France and Germany to agree a major step towards giving the European Union a military arm independent of Nato.

The proposals, which were presented to EU foreign ministers meeting in Naples last night, threaten a transatlantic rift by accelerating Franco-German plans for a separate European military identity.

Under the proposal, the EU will be able to conduct operations independently of America and Nato as a centrepiece of a new EU defence policy.

The Conservatives condemned the move last night as “catastrophic news for Nato”. But the Government insisted that it would not undermine the Atlantic alliance. The Liberal Democrats said that separating EU planning from NATO risked rivalry and duplication.

According to a White Paper seen by The Times, the EU will be given an enhanced role in planning operations, although in a concession won by Tony Blair there will be no standing operational headquarters for the European defence force.

The EU facility, likely to comprise what was described as a skeleton personnel of 130 staff drawn from member states’ officers, would only plan for operations that Nato does not want to be involved in, Britain says.

EU military planners would also, with the alliance’s backing, draw on Nato assets, notably transport planes, satellite intelligence and the alliance’s communications network, for peacekeeping missions. The Europeans would also beef up a long-term, strategic planning unit in Brussels, that would plan independent military operations similar to the French-led EU peacekeeping operation in the Congo this year.

Any attempt to create a European army independent of Nato is bitterly opposed by the US, which fears that France and Germany are pulling Britain in particular away from its military alliance and that the two powers could become military rivals.

The plans would enable the EU to send troops to sort out military crises around the world or get involved in peace-keeping missions, after the unanimous agreement of all EU member states.

The Conservatives accused the Government last night of an “abject surrender”.

Michael Ancram, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, said: “Despite cosmetic safeguards, it fundamentally challenges the primacy of Nato as a cornerstone of European security and is yet another step along the road to a single European state.”

Downing Street insisted last night that the European Union would only launch a military operation if it had the backing of Nato. Britain has refused to allow the paper to be presented to its other EU partners until the United States has had time to study it.