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EU: Prodi Seeks To Reassure Eastern Candidates On Security

European Commission President Romano Prodi has raised the security profile of the European Union by saying the EU will offer future member states the same level of security as that enjoyed by NATO members. He said any aggression against an EU state must produce a reaction from the Union as a whole. But as yet, the EU does not have any military forces of its own, and there is no mutual defense obligation codified by treaty.

Prague, 6 September 2001 (RFE/RL) -- EU Commission President Romano Prodi cast the European Union in a new light this week by suggesting that it is taking on a heightened military-security status in protecting its members.

Prodi said the security which EU states enjoy by belonging to the Union is "of the same level" as they would obtain from belonging to NATO. He said an EU member state "cannot be damaged or attacked without reaction from the EU. Otherwise there is no Union."

His remarks, made to a meeting of parliamentary deputies in Strasbourg on 4 September, appear aimed at the Central and East European countries that are candidates for EU membership. Those countries have in recent weeks been caught up in renewed debate about which of them should be invited to join NATO at the alliance's summit in Prague next year. The three Baltic states, keenly aware of their proximity to Russia, are especially eager to join NATO.

In view of this, political analyst Daniel Keohane of the Center for European Reform in London ponders a possible interpretation of Prodi's remarks. He told RFE/RL:

"Perhaps if certain Baltic states do not get into NATO, this is a way of reassuring them that they will have some security guarantees through EU membership, which perhaps will be more likely in 2004 or 2005."

Prodi's equation of the EU's role with that of NATO is a novel approach, but as the director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Adam Daniel Rotfeld, notes:

"NATO is not the only security structure. We have two other very heavyweight institutions, which have a different character, [namely] the European Union, with its CSFP [Common Security and Foreign Policy] and its new security dimension, and the OSCE [the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe]."

In the last two years, the EU has been developing a common security and foreign policy under High Representative Javier Solana, who is himself a former NATO secretary-general. And for the first time, as part of this policy, an EU rapid reaction military force of some 60,000 soldiers is foreseen.

However, in practical terms, the CSFP is still in its infancy. And the rapid reaction force so far exists only on paper. Further, there is no article in the EU treaty that binds members to come to the assistance, militarily, of any other member suffering aggression. There is, therefore, no cast-iron guarantee of collective defense, as there is with NATO.

As for the OSCE, Rotfeld says the original perception that it would be the senior European security body has since waned. As a result, Rotfeld says it's not surprising that the Eastern European nations identify their military security needs closely with NATO.

"NATO is tried and tested as an organization, which is efficient. And for obvious reasons, the new states -- the emerging democracies of Central and East Europe, including the new states which emerged after the collapse of the Soviet Union -- they would like to join such a strong structure, which is tried, tested and which can offer them the real security guarantees."

Another analyst, John Palmer, director of the European Policy Center in Brussels, says that a lack of military forces does not render the EU toothless.

"What Prodi is referring to is the political rather than the military realities. There is not the same military commitment, nor can there be, but there is a very important political commitment to security, in the real world, as opposed to the 'Talmudic' world of treaties. If a country is invaded -- if a member state for the EU were to be the subject, the victim of, aggression -- that would have enormous political-security consequences irrespective of the fact that the European Union does not have the same [military] potential as NATO. Don't forget, the great bulk of EU members are also members of NATO."

London-based analyst Keohane examines Prodi's remarks from another angle, namely their potential to complicate the position of the four militarily neutral members of the EU -- Ireland, Sweden, Finland, and Austria. Keohane is an Irishman, and he says that the Irish view has always been that the EU is a collective security organization, not a collective defense organization, like NATO.

"If Prodi is suggesting this is what the EU should become, that clearly does create problems for the non-aligned states. It would create a particular problem for Ireland, I would argue, in the light of the rejection of the Nice treaty, because of course military neutrality was one of the big issues in the debate, and this would give credence to the arguments of those who are pro-Irish neutrality who claim that Irish neutrality is being eroded."

Irish voters rejected the Nice treaty at a referendum in June. The treaty is meant to clear the way for the eastward expansion of the EU, and the rejection by a member state potentially complicates the enlargement process. Keohane says one reason for the rejection was that voters were angry at the government for not holding a promised referendum on the controversial issue of Ireland joining NATO's Partnership for Peace program. Ireland did join Partnership for Peace in 1999, but no referendum was held.

For analyst Palmer in Brussels, the problem of fitting the neutral members into the EU's common security and foreign policy are not so awkward.

"EU security policy must be seen as something distinct from full membership of military alliances. [After all], Ireland, Sweden, and Finland are very much involved in the EU's Balkan security role. Security and classical defense are not the same things. That's an important distinction to draw."

Palmer implies that the neutral minority can find a place within the common security and foreign policy. But given the sensitivities of that group, as displayed by Ireland, the path will be sometimes difficult.