21st Jan 2022

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.

France, the UK and Belgium all played down fears on Friday (17 October) after they, along with Germany, held an impromptu meeting to discuss plans to develop a leading European defence group.

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Tony Blair, the UK Prime Minister, said: "I will never put at risk NATO and I think in the last year,it would be impossible to accuse me of being anything other than a staunch ally and friend of the United States".

He went on to add:"But I believe that Britain has to be strong in Europe and strong with America and there are people who want to pull me away from Europe and people who want to pull me away from America".

French President Jacques Chirac said that European defence must be "completely consistent with our NATO commitments".

Guy Verhofstadt, the Belgian Premier, said European defence will not compete with NATO."

The US was also reassured by the Italian EU Presidency itself. Silvio Berlusconi, Italian Prime Minister, said that US fears on the matter should be allayed.

"I do not think there will be such misunderstandings in future. [The plans] are not an alternative to NATO but dovetails with NATO".

Extraordinary NATO meeting

However, for the moment, behind the scenes diplomacy is still top notch. NATO will hold an extra meeting on Monday to discuss the EU defence plans.

This follows comments by US ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns that qualified the defence project outside the Alliance as a "threat" to the organisation.

On Tuesday, there will be an exchange of views between the EU and NATO, said Javier Solana, the EU’s foreign policy chief.

The step up in pressure from Washington comes after the UK’s Tony Blair, a staunch ally of the US, last month in Berlin dropped his opposition to the idea of "structured co-operation" in defence.

The Berlin meeting followed an initiative by Belgium, France, Germany and Luxembourg in April for enhanced co-operation in defence.

Other EU states unhappy

However it is not just the US that is unhappy with plans to proceed in this area.

Neutral states such as Finland and Ireland have also expressed reservations.

Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern said of discussions on the matter by EU leaders on Thursday evening that there was "plenty of tension around the table on that issue".

Similarly the accession countries, many of them recent NATO members, have expressed strong reservations.

Poland is particularly against moves which may undermine NATO.

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