Brussels, 12 December 2003 (RFE/RL) -- European Union leaders meeting in Brussels today have agreed on a defense deal that will boost the bloc's ability to mount military operations. Under the agreement, the EU will set up a defense-planning cell based at NATO's military headquarters to run European missions with help from the alliance. The United States had denounced earlier plans for a separate EU military headquarters as a threat to NATO.
News of the deal came on the first day of a two-day summit that is meant to adopt the EU's first constitution.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair said negotiations on the text will be difficult. "The reason why it is important to try to get an agreement -- it may well not be possible -- but the reason why it is important to try is that Europe is now to expand to 25 countries, it is going to be the biggest economic market in the world," he said. "Britain's vital interests are engaged in making sure, therefore, that this new European Union works effectively, and that is particularly so because many of these member states that are coming into Europe now are people who agree with the British vision of Europe. They are pro-American and the trans-Atlantic alliance. They are pro-economic reform and they are in favor of the nation-state."
A key sticking point is the refusal by Poland and Spain to accept changes in voting powers sought by France and Germany.
Britain, meanwhile, is fighting to prevent Brussels from having the final say in issues ranging from foreign policy to taxation.