Germany, France vow to press ahead with EU military
BERLIN (AFP) Sep 18, 2003
Germany and France pledged Thursday to push ahead with plans to develop an autonomous EU military capability, despite criticism that it would double up with NATO.

They committed themselves to transforming the European security and defence policy into a full-scale defence union "so that the EU can emerge as a full and equal partner on the world stage."

The statement was issued at the end of government talks chaired by German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and French President Jacques Chirac.

They said the defence union would be open to all EU members.

But the idea of developing an EU military capable of acting on its own has not gone down well in Washington, which fears it may undermine the US-dominated North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

An April meeting between Belgium, France, Germany and Luxembourg, at which they proposed an autonomous European military command headquarters near the Belgian capital, was derided by the United States as a gathering of "chocolate makers."

Those four countries were the most fiercely opposed to the US-led war on Iraq.

The Franco-German statement said the security union "would bring together member states that are prepared to aim for rapid and far-reaching progress in strengthening their cooperation."

It said they wanted to reinforce "wherever possible" the harmonisation of military planning, concentration of capabilities and resources and sharing of responsibilities.

"We want to develop these projects with as many partners as possible," the statement went on.

"They are open to all interested current and future (EU) partners."

The statement stressed only on the second of its three pages that it saw Europe and North America as close allies with shared ideals, with NATO as the "bedrock of our collective defence."

"We see the improvement of European capabilities and our efforts toward a security and defence union as a contribution to a vital and strong alliance, based on the existing strategic partnership between the EU and NATO."

At the heart of proposals made at the four-nation April meeting is a plan for a headquarters at Tervuren, just outside Brussels.

This has been criticised by leaders from more US-friendly EU states, with Britain, for one, suggesting instead that a "planning cell" be based at NATO military headquarters in Mons, Belgium, to avoid undermining the alliance.