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3rd Dec 2022

EU governments to tackle defence issues

EU leaders in Brussels today (16 October) will tackle the thorny issue of defence amid reports that France, Germany and the UK are working on a common paper on EU military issues.

The EU's defence policy has risen up the Union's agenda since the UK recently indicated a shift in its stance towards France and Germany - two countries eager to forge ahead with integration in this area.

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Closer co-operation in defence would be the most important step for the EU since the establishment of the single currency - and is no less controversial.

Foreign ministers discussed the issue at their preparatory meeting on Monday in Luxembourg and the meeting ended in complete disagreement.

According to diplomats, several small countries are strongly opposed to the three big countries wanting to have closer co-operation in this area.

The issue touches on many sensitive areas at once: the EU's relationship with NATO and with the United States, and the setting up of a two-speed Europe.

Turn around

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, a staunch ally of the US, set the EU defence ball rolling last month. He surprised several by agreeing to be one of the countries that would take part in developing a leading defence group within the EU – so long as it was open to every member state.

At a Summit in Berlin, he gave the nod to so-called ‘structured co-operation’ after Germany and France dropped their plans to set up a separate EU operational planning facility in Tervuren - a Brussels suburb.

An internal document at the Berlin meeting said that the EU "should be endowed with a joint capacity to plan and conduct operations without recourse to NATO resources and capabilities. Our goal remains to achieve such a planning and implementation capacity either in consensus with the 25 [member states] but also in a circle of interested partners".

The co-operation of the big three goes to the heart of European Union relationships. France and Germany have traditionally been the motor for further political integration but they are aware that any plans on defence are virtually meaningless without the UK.

While the UK is still insisting that NATO is the cornerstone of the military alliance, several new member states are watching the developments very warily.

Many of them are recent NATO members with a strong attachment to the organisation and fear any rival set up.

EU seeks to reassure US on defence

EU leaders at a summit in Brussels sought to reassure the US that any plans on defence would not compete with NATO, after a NATO diplomat strongly criticised the moves.

European defence plan creates tension

With the UK on their side, Germany and France are setting up enhanced co-operation on European defence that has upset the US and surprised other EU governments. Belgium has joined them.

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