Europe lays the foundation for EU defence arm

WEU summit: Ministers avoid defining role for long term, but agree basis for joint operations

European governments agreed yesterday to push forward rapidly with a series of measures to allow them to conduct joint military operations independently of Nato.

Foreign and defence ministers of the Western European Union, meeting in Birmingham, reaffirmed plans to give the long-moribund defence body the capacity to conduct peace-keeping and humanitarian operations by the end of the year. The meeting of 27 governments - 10 full WEU members, plus observers, "associates" and "partners" - skirted around the trickier questions of the body's longer-term political aims and development.

At present the revivified WEU is a wife with two husbands: it acts as the European arm of Nato and, in an ill-defined way, as the security wing of the European Union. A number of European governments, led by Germany, would like to see the WEU fully absorbed into the EU as part of the present negotiations on reform of the Union treaties. Britain fiercely opposes such a step.

The French government took up an in-between position. It supported the British view that priority should be given to the practical moves agreed yesterday to equip the WEU with the intelligence, transport and command-and-control capacities to act independently of the US-dominated Nato alliance. But the French Foreign Minister, Herve de Charette, made it clear that Paris saw this as a first stage towards the creation of a defence policy within the EU, without threatening the pre-eminence of Nato.

"In the long term WEU will merge with the European Union but the time has not yet come," he said. "Everything has to be achieved in a step by step fashion, so that the WEU can first become a useful tool for European foreign policy."

Mr de Charette startled British officials by proposing that the financing of the developments needed to create a fully-functioning WEU should be agreed at EU level. France has already said it wants WEU policy to be decided at EU summits. Both ideas go much further than the British government is prepared to tolerate.

But these differences were only hinted at yesterday: they are quarrels for the future. Other European governments are pleased that, within limits, Britain has been playing a positive role in the re-shaping of post-Soviet European security policy.

Britain presides over the WEU for the first half of this year and has pushed forward a number of practical changes needed to allow the body to emerge from Nato's shadow after nearly 50 years. The aim is to make the WEU separable from Nato but not separate; in other words to develop a capacity for independent European crisis-management, peace-keeping and fire-fighting in situations in which the US does not wish to get involved.

A WEU intelligence unit has been set up in Brussels and Nato agreed this week to share some classified information with this body. A permanent WEU situation centre for managing crises will start up in Brussels next month. Ministers yesterday called for urgent decisions on the permanent sharing of Nato resources - especially communications and transport - to meet the target of an operational WEU by the end of the year.

The Birmingham meeting also decided that observer members of WEU - neutral countries such as Sweden and Ireland - could be invited to take part in peace-keeping exercises.

The Foreign Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, who chaired the meeting, said afterwards that a merger between the WEU and EU "should not arise", even in the long term. It would confuse WEU's role as a component of the Atlantic alliance and make difficulties for the neutral EU states. He also rejected suggestions that financing of the WEU should be agreed at EU level.

The Secretary of State for Defence, Michael Portillo, said more progress had been made towards making the WEU an "operational force" in the last six months than in "many years before".

It is clear however that the WEU will - initially at any rate - be capable of undertaking only light duties. The suggestion that it organise a peace-keeping force for Bosnia, to succeed the Nato-run implementation force(I-For) next year, was slapped down by both British and French officials. Mr de Charette said the idea, floated by the European Commission, was "irresponsible". The US and European troops in I-For had gone to Bosnia together and would leave together, he said. The decision on what should happen next lay with Nato, not the EU.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
footballA colourful discussion on tactics, the merits of the English footballer and rebuilding Manchester United
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Travel
The shipping news: a typical Snoozebox construction
travelSpending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz