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Defence row looms at EU summit
LONDON, England -- A new row on defence is threatening further ructions at the European Union summit in France this week.
The summit in Nice, which opens on Thursday, is already in danger of stalemate over proposals to increase majority voting, change national voting weights and reduce numbers on the European Commission.
Now plans introduced at a late stage by France, current holders of the rotating EU presidency, have made defence a battleground as well.
One of the key issues at Nice is the proposed introduction of "enhanced co-operation," the "two-tier Europe" procedure whereby groups of countries would be allowed to go ahead with integration projects without the rest of the EU.
The French have proposed that the "enhanced co-operation" procedures should apply to defence projects. The United Kingdom, Sweden and Ireland are objecting.
Robin Cook, the British Foreign Secretary, said at a meeting of EU foreign ministers on Monday: "We are not going to agree to any arrangements where there are parallel structures where we don’t know what that might lead to."
The objectors are worried that the new plans might upset arrangements for the EU’s new 60,000-strong Rapid Reaction Force. The EU and NATO are still in negotiation over the precise relations of the two bodies.
Governments like those in Britain, where there is strong political opposition to the new force, have given assurances that the Rapid Reaction Force is not a European standing army and will do nothing to undermine NATO.
Although those points are specified in the document to be approved by the Nice summit, the objectors fear that any new two-tier defence arrangement might undermine those guarantees.
The French are arguing that applying “enhanced co-operation” to defence matters would aid flexibility in crisis management.
The row has been further complicated by a warning from U.S. defence secretary William Cohen that the new EU force should not have a separate planning operation but should rely on NATO for such functions.
Speaking in advance of Tuesday’s NATO defence ministers’ meeting, Cohen said that NATO and U.S. security ties with Europe would be eroded if the EU insists on separate operational planning for the Rapid Reaction Force.
There is now a contentious new item for what already threatened to be a bitterly contested summit.
"Mad cow" threatens to hijack EU summit
European Council Nice Summit
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