The European Union's plans for its own military force have come up against a brick wall following objections from a country that is not even in the EU: Turkey. Turkish diplomats see no quick solution to the dispute which is further complicated by differences among EU members. RFE/RL correspondent Breffni O'Rourke reports:
Prague, 10 January 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The problems now blocking the formation of the European Union's Rapid Reaction military force show the difficulties facing the EU when it tries to undertake a major initiative.
Plans for the Rapid Reaction force crystallized last year and at first moved ahead at what EU security chief Javier Solana called a "lightning pace" compared with most other EU business.
The union seeks the capacity to deploy quickly up to 60,000 men for peacekeeping or disaster-relief duties in the event of a crisis such as last year's Kosovo campaign. The force would be made up of national contingents put together for a specific occasion, and would not take the form of a standing army.
Links with the NATO alliance are envisaged as close, with planning capability and some military hardware being drawn from NATO. The U.S. administration of President Bill Clinton supports the EU plan provided it does not lead to a division within NATO. NATO alliance Secretary General Lord Robertson is also supportive, saying the initiative would meet Washington's demands for Europe to shoulder more of the burden of its own defense.
But in recent weeks the Rapid Reaction scheme has run into trouble. The main cause is the unexpected refusal of NATO-member Turkey to grant the new force automatic access to NATO's assets.
In exchange for such access, Ankara wants what amounts to equal say with EU members on decisions to launch a mission. It says it is entitled to this, among other reasons, because of its proximity to potential trouble spots like the Balkans.
But EU members are not willing to give Ankara effective co-decision-making powers. True, Turkey is a candidate for EU membership, but its entry lies at some undefined date in the future. Instead, the EU has offered wide-ranging concessions to Ankara and other non-EU NATO members, but these fall short of Turkey's demands.
Christina Gallach, the spokeswoman for EU security chief Solana, says the EU remains confident of finding a solution. She tells RFE/RL:
"We [in the EU] will keep working, and among the NATO nations they will also keep working, and we are sure we will reach an agreement. Instead of being able to reach one now at the beginning of the year, after NATO's internal deliberations, we will have to wait a little longer."
The spokeswoman sidestepped a question on whether the EU would be willing to make further concessions to Ankara, emphasizing instead the common ground Brussels has already found with the Turks:
"It's not how much more we can give to Turkey, I think Turkey has taken extremely important decisions regarding security and defense policy of the European Union. For example, Turkey was very generous in the offer it made to contribute to the European Rapid Reaction force."
Gallach recalled that at the same pledging session in November other EU-candidate members, including Poland, the Czech Republic and the Baltic states, also offered troops to the new force.
However, a spokesman for the Turkish delegation to NATO, Levent Gumrukcu, says he is not expecting a quick solution. Speaking from NATO headquarters, he tells RFE/RL:
"For us, not the pace, but the substance -- the content -- of the progress is more important, it should be satisfactory to all, it should be reinforcing and strengthening the European security. For that reason, we are not very much concerned by the speed."
Gumrukcu emphasized the gravity with which Turkey -- a NATO member for 40 years -- views any change in the European security architecture:
"The issues are delicate. It definitely effects our security both nationally and [on the level of] European and international security, so one has to be very cautious, very careful of what is being done, and what is to be done."
But Turkey is not the only factor in play in the defense affair. The main backing for the Rapid Reaction force came from Britain and France. Those two countries have pushed the project forward, but recent events have highlighted major differences between them. The differences were always there, of course, in that France is traditionally much more in favor of European integration than is Britain.
In the run-up to last month's EU summit in Nice, France sought greater independence for the force than Britain did. This unleashed concern in Britain, notably among the Conservative Party opposition, that what was really being planned was an embryonic all-European army that would rival NATO in its mission.
The government of Prime Minister Tony Blair denied that strongly. Later, at Nice, Britain took care to have defense cooperation excluded from the new concept of "enhanced cooperation." Enhanced cooperation means allowing small groups of nations to forge ahead of their fellow EU members in implementing specific integration measures.
Subsequently, Turkey's refusal to grant the Rapid Reaction force access to NATO military planners has reactivated France's preference for giving the force its own independent planning capability. British officials have let it be known that they would not allow that.
So, for the moment the plans for the new force, started with much optimism and fanfare, are in a limbo, caught between competing demands inside and outside the EU.