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Berlin, Paris and Warsaw keen to beef up EU military muscle

  • Mr Sikorski's Chobielin ranch: the Permanent Structured Co-operation plan is understood to have been hatched here in 2009 (Photo: PolandMFA)

France, Germany and Poland have urged EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton to personally take charge of plans to boost military co-operation between EU countries and between EU and Nato structures.

The foreign ministers of the three countries in a rare joint letter to Ms Ashton dated 6 December and seen by this website said: "The European Union has become a recognised and sought-after security actor. It will become more solicited, alone or in co-ordination with other actors such as the UN, Nato, the United States and emerging powers."

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"Your personal involvement in this endeavour is the key," the ministers add, calling for "bold decisions ... with you, Madam High Representative, in the lead."

The letter proposes triggering the so-called Permanent Structured Co-operation clause in the Lisbon Treaty under which militarily-advanced EU states can create an avant-garde group on joint defence procurement and operational planning for other EU countries to get involved in down the line.

The ministers ask Ms Ashton to look into the creation of a permanent EU civilian-military planning capability; explore ways of making EU battlegroups pack more punch in the field; explore possibilities for "common funding" of battlegroup needs, such as air-lift equipment; and stimulate research investment in the European Defence Technological and Industrial Base.

The three countries urge the British baroness to launch an "in-depth discussion" on the subject among EU ministers and to "achieve concrete results under the Polish EU presidency in the second half of 2011."

On the EU-Nato side, the letter says: "There is ample room for improvement in our relations, regarding both in-theatre operational co-operation and ... in the area of capabilities." It names cyberdefence as a new area for joint work and says the US should more often be invited to take part in EU military missions.

The defence plan is understood to have been hatched during a private conversation between Poland's foreign minister, Radek Sikorski, and his former French counterpart, Bernard Kouchner, at Mr Sikorski's private ranch in Chobielin, Poland, in 2009.

The inclusion of Germany, the biggest net contributor to the EU budget, gives the scheme extra weight and consumates Poland's ambition to join the club of major EU policy-makers - France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK.

Commenting on the scheme after an EU ministerial in Brussels on Monday (13 December), Mr Sikorksi told the Polish Press Agency: "We know about the limitations of the EU when it comes to defence: We have a series of members who are neutral countries, but on the other hand Lisbon has created for us the Permanent Structured Co-operation mechanism."

The ministers' agenda fits with Nato's new Strategic Concept, adopted in Lisbon last month, which spoke of a post-Cold-War global conflict prevention agenda for the alliance and highlighted cyber security as a new priority. The Nato summit equally bemoaned existing problems in EU-Nato co-operation.

The Franco-German-Polish initiative also mirrors joint defence projects currently being rolled out at sub-EU level.

France and the UK in November signed a defence pact covering joint nuclear weapons tests, while the UK, the five Nordic countries and the three Baltic States will in January hold a summit on defence and energy co-operation in the High North. The five Nordic countries will in April also debate a potential new defence pact, with proposals including a Nato-style "one-for-all-and-all-for-one" mutual defence obligation.

This story was altered at 8am Brussels time on 14 December, adding the Sikorski quote

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