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EU: 'Mini-Summit' On Defense Probes Emancipation From U.S., NATO

Germany, France, Belgium, and Luxembourg announced plans today to set up a European defense union. Meeting for a "mini-summit" in Brussels, the leaders of the four countries signed a declaration that appears to commit them to the creation of military structures and assets clearly separate from those of NATO. Summit participants also raised the more distant prospect of a fully fledged European Defense Union.

Brussels, 29 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Today's "mini-summit" -- although it resulted in a dense, three-page declaration signed by the leaders of Germany, France, Belgium, and Luxembourg -- will probably leave most observers guessing about its significance.

On one level, the fact that the summit took place amounts to a declaration of emancipation from the United States. All four countries opposed the war in Iraq and are among the founding members of the European Union. They are now apparently intent on regaining the initiative in the bloc's ongoing reforms and steering it toward greater autonomy from the United States.

Officially, a rift with the United States, or NATO, is the last thing on anyone's mind. The aim of the four countries -- as French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder repeatedly stressed -- is simply to strengthen NATO's European pillar to offer the United States greater support in pursuit of objectives grounded in shared values.

None of the four heads of state and government managed to explain exhaustively why they consider it necessary to pursue their initiative outside of the structures set up within NATO and, increasingly, the EU itself.

Most often, vague references were made to "economies of scale," and Chirac spoke at length of the need to avoid duplication within the EU.

"[We want] to avoid the duplication of senseless expenses among member states to achieve the reinforcement of the European pillar within NATO. We obviously have nothing against the Atlantic alliance. On the contrary, we would like to strengthen it," Chirac said.

Yet the proposals adopted today commit the four countries -- and anyone else willing to join -- to setting up a separate European rapid reaction force, a common command for strategic airlifts, joint training centers, and even an autonomous headquarters for planning and conducting EU-led operations. Most of these tasks must be fulfilled by the end of next year.

Today's joint declaration also contains even more ambitious, although ambiguous, proposals for the EU's reform convention to formally allow for the possibility of the creation of a European Security Defense Union among member states that will integrate at a faster pace than others. The union is to contain a mutual defense clause against "all" risks, rather than just terrorism, as envisaged in plans before the convention.

The summiteers were very clear today that additional defense capabilities are necessary to give the EU the opportunity of autonomous action independent of NATO and the United States.

Greater military power was said to be an "absolutely necessary" tool for the EU's Common Foreign and Security Policy.

Chirac stated clearly the group's long-term aims again today when he observed that a partnership with the United States implies equality, "otherwise there cannot be a partnership."

Chirac also noted the EU must be ready to demonstrate its ambitions, stressing pointedly that the bloc must be able to undertake tasks for the United Nations without recourse to NATO assets -- or the U.S. approval that would imply.

"We propose to reflect together with our partners on the creation of the means necessary for operational planning and the conducting of strategic operations based on the general staffs of the member states," he said. "Their strategic resources can be used when the EU decides -- in conformity with the [1998 Franco-British] St. Malo declaration and the EU's Cologne summit [in 1999] -- to have no recourse to the assets and capabilities of NATO, for example, in operations conducted by the EU under the aegis of the United Nations," Chirac said.

All four leaders took great pains to emphasize that whatever structures are set up remain open to all current and future EU member states, including Bulgaria and Romania, which will not join before 2007.