Sun, Jun 08, 2008 - Page 6 News List

French seek military integration

COMMON DEFENSENew EU measures proposed by France threaten a bruising battle with the UK as the French president leads calls for joint funding of defense operations

THE GUARDIAN , BRUSSELS AND LONDON

France has proposed a battery of measures aimed at boosting European military integration — including the EU’s first permanent operational headquarters in Brussels for planning military missions abroad — threatening a bruising battle with the British government.

The proposals, circulated to European governments in a confidential document detailing Paris’ security policy priorities, include common EU funding of military operations, a European fleet of military transport aircraft, European military satellites and a permanent European defense college.

The British have, since 2004, resisted the headquarters idea, seeing it as a French ploy to undermine NATO and boost common European defense by establishing a European rival to NATO’s SHAPE planning headquarters in Belgium.

The British prime minister’s spokesman said on Friday the British government is committed to NATO remaining the cornerstone of European defense, but also supports permanent structured cooperation on defense within the EU so long as it does not duplicate the work of NATO, or remove the UK veto.

The two governments are already negotiating quietly over President Nicolas Sarkozy’s defense proposals, sources said, adding that Washington is privately pressing the Brown government to reach a deal with the French.

Details of the French proposals confirm that Sarkozy is determined to use his six-month EU presidency, starting in three weeks, to drive forward his military agenda for Europe. The French have sought to keep their proposals private for the moment so as not to derail ratification of the EU treaty. Ireland is holding its referendum on the Lisbon treaty next week and Britain is due to vote on whether to demand a similar referendum on Wednesday.

The British government said the document was a set of preliminary proposals for discussion and did not represent French government policy.

Most sensitively, the French are insisting on the new Brussels headquarters coming under the authority of Europe’s foreign policy supremo, a post whose powers are considerably boosted under the EU’s reform treaty.

Ultimately, the Brussels headquarters would plan and control EU missions abroad.

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