The Helsinki summit of European Union leaders is set to give the go-head for a joint European military force outside the NATO alliance. This development, which is a significant step towards further European integration, will also in time affect those countries that are queuing to enter the EU.
Prague, 9 December 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The European Union's expected approval this weekend of an independent European military force will soon have an impact on the Eastern countries that are candidates for EU membership.
The EU's Helsinki summit (Dec. 10-11) is set to approve a draft plan drawn up by the Finnish EU Presidency which envisages creation of a rapid reaction force of some 60,000 ground, air force and naval personnel by 2002 or 2003.
The plan, pushed in particular by Britain and France, has come to fruition rapidly since NATO's conflict with Yugoslavia over Kosovo. That conflict, which was fought mainly with U.S. air power, showed the comparative weakness of the European countries in such areas as projection of air power, command and control facilities, and the air transport of troops. In remarks to the British parliament last week, British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook set out the problem, and its envisaged solution: "Kosovo did expose for Europeans as a whole a real problem in projecting effective military assets from immobile standing armies. That is why we are advocating that the European nations, cooperating together, should set themselves the target of being able to deploy, within a 60-day period, a corps-level military force and sustain it in the field for at least a year."
What's needed, Cook said, is to equip the EU with the capacity to carry through military decisions in crisis situations.
Cook and others emphasize that the new force is not meant to be a rival for NATO, which includes as a key member the United States, and which has been the guarantor of Western European security for 50 years. But it is meant to act in European crises where the United States does not want to become involved. Creation of the force thus marks an important stage in European integration. As Reijo Kemppinen, spokesman for the Finnish EU Presidency, puts it:
"One of the most important parts of this exercise is that the Europeans would finally for the first time since the Second World War start bearing their own part of the responsibility on European soil."
The bulk of the designated forces will be from the big four West European military powers -- Germany, France, Britain, and Italy. But other EU member states will also be eligible to contribute, including the incoming members from Central and Eastern Europe.
Three front-running EU candidate members, namely Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary, which are already NATO members, are expected to join the EU sometime between 2003 and 2007, when the Euro-force is just freshly formed. Their integrationist drive would make them likely contributors to the new force.
Although the EU has not defined its policy on this issue yet, sources within the Finnish Presidency say that, logically, there is no reason why new EU members could not join the Euro-force, even if they are not NATO members.
For instance Romania, Bulgaria, and Slovakia, which aspire to both EU and NATO membership, could conceivably be accepted into the EU before they gain entry to NATO, and could thus field contributions to the Euro force.
The Finnish sources note that Finland itself is not part of NATO, but will be contributing to the new Euro-force in what it sees as appropriate situations, which will mostly relate to peacekeeping duties or civil catastrophes.
The three Baltic republics, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, all of which are EU candidates, are in a delicate position as former Soviet republics. Russia's present firm opposition to their becoming NATO members could also extend to their participation in the new European military structures.
Organizationally, Kemppinen told RFE/RL that the designated Euro-force troops will remain in their national units until the moment of crisis, when they will come under central control for the duration of the emergency. In other words, there will be no pan-European standing army; instead, the force will be made up of soldiers serving normally in their own national armies until deployed jointly to face a particular crisis.
It's envisaged that two standing committees will be created to coordinate joint activities, one a political/security committee of civilian officials, the other a panel of senior military officers. The standing structure of the Euro-force could fall under the office of the new EU high commissioner for foreign and security policy, Javier Solana, but that is not yet fixed. That's the sort of question that the Helsinki summit is expected to decide.
Of course, money comes into the equation also. As the personnel will be drawn mostly from existing national units, the cost of creating the force's formal structure will not be great.
But the cost of the technical and equipment upgrades necessary to make the Euro-force a modern and effective entity will not be easily found at a time when most EU countries are preoccupied with budgetary restraint and fighting high unemployment. U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen has repeatedly urged European countries to spend the resources to bring their forces up to par technologically with the United States, but Germany in particular is talking instead about a need for cuts.
(Correspondents Ben Partridge and Roland Eggleston contributed to this report.)