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Five EU countries call for new military 'structure'

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Five leading EU countries, but not the UK, have said the Union needs a new military "structure" to manage overseas operations.

The foreign and defence ministers of France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Spain issued the call in a joint communique after a meeting in Paris on Thursday (15 November).

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The paper says: "We are convinced that the EU must set up, within a framework yet to-be-defined, true civilian-military structures to plan and conduct missions and operations."

It adds: "We should show preparedness to hold available, train, deploy and sustain in theatre the necessary civilian and military means."

It lists a number of EU military priorities for the coming years: helping Somalia to fight Islamists and pirates; "a possible training mission to support the Malian armed forces" in reconquering north Mali; "assistance to support the new Libyan authorities" against Islamist militias; "normalisation" of the Western Balkans; "conflict resolution" in Georgia; and police training in Afghanistan.

The communique also calls for more "pooling and sharing" of EU defence hardware in the context of crisis-related budget cuts.

It identifies "space, ballistic-missile defence, drones, air-to-air refuelling, airlift capacities, medical support to operations [and] software defined radio" as pooling areas.

The reference to new "civilian-military structures" comes after the UK last year blocked the creation of a new operational headquarters (OHQ) in Brussels for EU military missions.

Britain's Telegraph newspaper earlier this week cited a "senior French source" as saying that EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton supports the idea of an OHQ, which will become a "ripe fruit" in the "long-term" as EU military operations multiply.

Ashton officials denied the report.

Meanwhile, the UK's role in future EU defence co-operation was a big topic at the Paris meeting.

French foreign minister Laurent Fabius said the UK can join the group-of-five at any time: "The text which we have developed is open to all of our colleagues, especially Great Britain."

French defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the communique is designed to "create a movement" ahead of an EU summit on defence in 2013.

For his part, Polish foreign minister Radek Sikorski said: "If the EU wants to become a superpower, and Poland supports this, then we must have the capability to exert influence in our neighbourhood ... Sometimes we must use force to back our diplomacy."

He called for an "ambitious" EU budget for 2014 to 2020 to help with defence co-ordination.

Speaking in a separate interview in UK newspaper The Times also on Thursday, Sikorski blamed British "nostalgia" for past greatness as a reason why it is pulling back from EU integration and why it wants to cut the EU budget.

He touched on historic sensitivities by describing EU spending as a kind of "Marshall plan."

He said Poland and other former-Soviet-controlled EU countries missed out on the plan - a massive injection of US money to rebuild Europe after World War II - because UK and US leaders at a summit in Yalta in 1945 gave the Soviet Union control of eastern Europe.

"We fought Hitler alone, giving you [the UK] valuable time to prepare for fighting. But we did not enjoy freedom after World War II ... Because of Yalta, we could not benefit [from the Marshall plan]. European cohesion funds are our Marshall plan for catching up with Europe," he noted.

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