EU agrees on plans to form army of 40,000

EUROPE PRESSED ahead yesterday with ambitious plans to beef up military and foreign policy capabilities but failed to agree on what steps to take against Russia apropos of the war in Chechnya.

A meeting of Foreign and Defence Ministers in Brussels debated over command and control structures for a European rapid-reaction force of around 40,000 men and decided to beef up the powers of Javier Solana, the EU's external- policy expert. The results of the meeting will be announced next month.

Britain has argued that the force of troops from around the EU should be operational by the end of 2003. The German Defence Minister, Rudolf Scharping, called for the target date to be a year earlier than that. Decisions will not be taken until next month's summit of EU leaders in Helsinki, but one European Commission source said yesterday that there had been "general consensus".

Challenged on the disparity between the EU's ambitions for its future role and its current stance vis-a-vis Russia, the Finnish Foreign Minister, who chaired yesterday's meeting, defended the position.

"We will think of sanctions - the Russians know that," said Tarja Halonen, "but they are not the miracle key."

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