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EU/Turkey: Row Over NATO Asset-Sharing Turning Sour

  • Breffni O'Rourke

The European Union and Turkey are involved in a sharp dispute over whether the EU's projected Rapid Reaction Force will have automatic access to NATO military planning facilities and other alliance assets. NATO member Turkey is refusing to allow such access unless it is granted what amounts to co-decision rights with EU members on the conduct of operations involving the new force. The Union is unwilling to grant Turkey that status, as it is not yet an EU member. The row is now reaching a decisive point, because the EU may soon have to develop its own military planning capability -- thereby antagonizing its NATO allies. RFE/RL correspondent Breffni O'Rourke looks at developments so far.

Prague, 18 July 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The dispute between the European Union and Turkey over the development of the EU's autonomous Rapid Reaction Force has dragged on for many months now, and EU ministers are beginning to openly express frustration at the lack of a solution.

Turkey, a NATO member, says it wants rights alongside EU member states to decide on the conduct of missions assigned to the new force. Turkey says it is entitled to such co-decision rights in part because of its proximity to potential European trouble spots like the Balkans.

Brussels, however, is unwilling to give Ankara such a large say because Turkey is not yet an EU member. It has offered instead wide-ranging consultations. But the Turks are not satisfied, and have blocked access by the new force to NATO's military planning facilities and other assets. Automatic access to such facilities was agreed in advance with NATO.

The issue is a sensitive one. The United States and some other NATO allies -- notably, Britain and Canada -- are keen for the new EU force to complement NATO, not duplicate it with independent structures such as its own operational planning staff.

A spokesman for the EU Military Committee in Brussels, Commander Andreas Jedlicka, told our correspondent that efforts are still concentrated on the negotiations with Ankara.

"We are not planning our own structures [at the moment]. We are still placing our full efforts into finding a solution [with Turkey], and it is [a] sensitive [issue]. It's on its way now, and I cannot give more comments about that."

But time is beginning to press. Planning facilities for the new EU force must be in place by the start of 2003, and military officials say privately that they don't expect a quick solution with Turkey. Jedlicka says exercises by the EU force will be starting as early as next May. They will not involve troops on the ground, but will deal with decision-making processes among political and military leaders. He says:

"These will be so-called command-post exercises, which means training in the interplay between the political and military decision-making structures here in Brussels and in field headquarters, operational headquarters, and, if necessary, in the capitals of the member states."

With these developments underway, EU officials in Brussels are beginning to say that the new force cannot be held hostage indefinitely by Turkey. EU foreign ministers, who met in Brussels on 16 July, publicly criticized Ankara. French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine said the general feeling had been that Turkey "should not try to slow down the establishment of a European defense policy."

Vedrine added, pointedly, that Turkey "should use more European methods to defend its position." The implications of that comment should be viewed in the context of Turkey's bid to become a member of the EU.

That same day Louis Michel, foreign minister of Belgium, which holds the current EU presidency, also said Turkey cannot stop the EU from developing its common security and defense policy. Michel added that by the end of its presidency in December, Belgium plans to announce that the new force has "limited operationability." That would imply the existence of some sort of operational planning capability.

EU Military Committee spokesman Jedlicka gave some details of the expected December announcement, to be made at the EU's summit at Laaken, Belgium. He said:

"You can expect to have a statement in Laaken. But it will be not only purely on military forces, or military capabilities, but more on the ability of the Union to react in the field of [humanitarian] crisis response, and conflict prevention, where only one element is the military forces."

As Turkey sees the issue, the EU is being inflexible, particularly in view of the prospect that Turkey will eventually become an EU member. The first secretary of Turkey's mission to NATO, Mehmet Poroy, tells RFE/RL:

"We want a resolution, but it depends also on the attitude of the EU. I mean, as far as I know, the negotiations are going on in the capitals, and we want also some flexibility from the EU side to solve this issue."

Poroy emphasizes that Turkey is not seeking a veto right over the deployment of the new force. But he says: "What we want is equal and full rights in the planning, preparation, and conduct of EU-led operations in which we contribute troops."

The two sides are apparently still far from an accord. And analysts say it's becoming increasingly obvious that the EU will go its own way if the dispute with Turkey is not somehow resolved soon.