Leading Article: Strong case for the Euro soldier

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THE PICTURE-POSTCARD resort of Poertschach am Woerthersee, in the Austrian Alps, is not about to join Maastricht, Camp David or even the Wye Plantation in Maryland in the list of small places that have given their names to big international agreements. At the weekend's European Union summit the incoming German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroder, accepted with welcome urgency the need for reform of European institutions. The alleged turn towards a more Keynesian economic approach was also promising, as a response to the threat of recession. But one subject did not come nearly high enough on the list of talking-points. Elsewhere in Europe, in Kosovo, evidence is mounting that Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian leader, is already breaking the agreement brokered a few days ago.

This comes as no surprise, but should dig the spurs deep into the flanks of Europe's leaders. To his credit, Tony Blair's conversion to the cause of a European defence force is a huge step forward. Not that it offers much of a solution to the present crisis in Kosovo, but the crimes against humanity in the former Yugoslavia provide a case study in why such a force is needed.

There is no reason why we in Europe should continue to rely on the Americans to sort out our local ethnic disputes. American public opinion will not wear the deployment of ground troops in a war that has no bearing at all on the US national interest.But the creation of a European defence force should not be seen as a rival to, or duplication of, Nato; what Kosovo has shown is the need for the European members of Nato to act together.

The humiliating weakness of Europe whenever it tries to act together, particularly in its own backyard, is not a reason for despairing of ever developing a commondefence policy. It should be a reason for redoubling efforts to do so. There is now a wide range of issues, from Algeria to the Balkans, where America has no desire, or duty, to intervene. It is time for Europeans to take responsibility for their own security.