Bonn, 31 May 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Germany and France have again pressed for the creation of a pan-European rapid-reaction military force which can respond to crises outside its borders without direct American involvement. But defense analysts in Bonn caution that political and financial realities could delay its implementation.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and French President Jacques Chirac agreed at a meeting in the French city of Toulouse at the weekend (May 29) that the European Union should equip itself with military forces able to deal with crises where European interests are involved. The statement said it would be a contribution to the United Nations, which had the prime responsibility for peace and international security.
Commentators in Germany stress that the Toulouse statement refers only to Germany and France and does not involve any other member of the European Union. But a Foreign Ministry spokesman in Bonn told RFE/RL today that France and Germany would discuss the proposals with other European leaders at the EU Summit meeting in Cologne on Thursday and Friday.
Defense analysts in Bonn said the initiative for the statement came largely from the French. Paris has been pressing for several years for an effective European military force which can operate autonomously from NATO and its American command.
In March 1996, the then-French Prime Minister Alain Juppe proposed a European army of between 250,000 and 350,000 troops capable of acting independently of Washington in a crisis while still being integrated within the NATO organization. Juppe envisaged France, Germany, Britain, Italy and Spain providing the core of the force.
German commentators say the new statement from Toulouse brushes over a number of important problems. These include the fact that the German army is largely oriented around conscripts and there is considerable political opposition in the country towards involving them in any form of a shooting war. A large faction inside the Greens party, which forms the coalition with Schroeder's Social Democrats, strongly opposes any German role in foreign military operations.
Commentators say most German political leaders still believe the armed forces should remain focused on defense of the nation within its borders, even though German aircraft are now flying missions over Kosovo. There is virtually no support for armed German troops joining any ground operation in Kosovo.
France, on the other hand, announced in 1996 that it was remodeling its armed forces into a smaller, more mobile force of military professionals able to go into combat quickly outside French borders. Unlike Germany, France is experienced in conducting military interventions in other countries. That is particularly true in Africa where France once had colonies and where it still maintains a military presence in some countries.
Some German commentators said France has recently shown impatience with the political problems affecting the German government's attitude towards creating a European army. As recently as last week an aide to French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin criticized Germany as being "indecisive" on developing a European defense capacity.
Defense analysts in Bonn familiar with the discussions in Toulouse at the weekend told RFE/RL that France proposed the creation of a rapid reaction force around the embryo European military unit, Eurocorps, which was created in 1993.
The Eurocorps was originally a Franco-German brigade but has been widened to include units from Belgium, Luxembourg and Spain. The unit is based in the French city of Strasbourg with a Belgian general as commander and can call on 60,000 troops for its operations.
Defense analysts say that, in practice, the Eurocorps has remained largely a symbol of European ambitions and has rarely been involved in operations. A Eurocorps unit was activated during the Bosnian war but was not engaged in any major activities.
German officials told RFE/RL today they expected the two-day European Union Summit in Cologne this week (June 3/4) to express support in principle for the idea of a pan-European force, but said concrete action might take some time.
One of the main goals of the Cologne Summit is to draw up a practical timetable for turning the largely ineffective West European Union (WEU) defense forum into the genuine security arm of the European Union by the end of next year. France will then be president of the European Union and has said several times it will make major efforts to turn the proposal into reality. The German officials also expect the Cologne meeting to make progress on naming a spokesman for Europe on defense and security issues.
A secondary issue in the Franco-German declaration in Toulouse referred to the benefits of a pan-European defense industry. This idea has been encouraged by France since a meeting in January 1997 between President Jacques Chirac and the then-German Chancellor Helmut Kohl.
German commentators said there had apparently been little progress in overcoming the difficulties involved. They noted that the Toulouse statement made no mention of German co-financing of such French military projects as the attack helicopter Tiger or the military satellites Horos and Helios. Some French newspapers predicted last week that the German Chancellor would offer such co-financing.