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EU stumbles on international, defense proposals

June 17, 1997
Web posted at: 12:32 p.m. EDT (1632 GMT)

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AMSTERDAM, Netherlands (CNN) -- European Union leaders were unable to come to a meeting of the minds Tuesday on merging international and defense policies among EU member nations.

As the two-day summit neared an end, the 15 leaders had agreed only on appointing a little-known civil servant to represent the group in international policy.

They made virtually no progress in moving toward a joint defense -- which means the United States is likely to retain prominence in that area for some time to come.

Euro faces another obstacle

Also Tuesday, France threw another obstacle into the path of the EU's drive toward a single currency, just a day after the 1999 launch of the euro was proclaimed to be back on track.

Finance Minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn said France would insist on a flexible interpretation of the rules for joining the single currency, a move Germany and others reject as threatening to undermine the monetary union.

Nations aiming to adopt the euro have until the end of this year to meet targets of low inflation, narrow budget deficits and falling public debt. Countries "that are getting close but aren't necessarily there yet" should be allowed to qualify, Strauss-Kahn said.

Although Strauss-Kahn was confident the currency union would start on time, French European Affairs Minister Pierre Moscovici cast doubt on whether France would participate at all.

"We need to see what the situation of our public finances is, and it's in regard to that public finances situation that we will decide, or not, to participate in the euro," Moscovici told RTL radio.

No agreement on defense integration

Tuesday's discussions on the defense issue bogged down when EU leaders could not agree to integrate the Western European Union (WEU) defense group into the EU. Instead, they called only for closer relations between the two groups.

Great Britain, Denmark, Sweden, Ireland, Finland and Austria oppose any transformation of the EU into a defense organization -- or fear the possibility that the Union's defense strategies could undermine the work already being done by NATO.

In a compromise promoted by the Dutch, the 10-nation WEU would be sub-contracted for humanitarian, peacekeeping and crisis management missions. The arrangement between the two bodies "might in time lead to the integration of the WEU into the Union," the compromise said.

On the international policy front, France and Germany backed off earlier insistence that Europe merge its international policy ministries, and supported a Dutch compromise making the secretary-general of the EU's council of ministers the part-time voice of the Union in such matters.

The position is currently held by Juergen Trumpf, a former troubleshooter for German Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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