Britain caught between Nato and EU as Rumsfeld flies in

The Government was last night battling to calm American fears over its deal on European Union defence, ahead of the arrival of Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, in Brussels today for talks at Nato.

A controversial package of measures on defence dominated a meeting in Naples which backed plans for an EU foreign minister, and heard calls for the main issue blocking a deal on a new European constitution to be fudged.

Although it was hailed as a "breakthrough" by France, the text of the defence deal between London, Berlin and Paris has still not been agreed, apparently because Washington has not given the UK the green light to sign up.

Under fire from his critics at home, Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, insisted that the plans to build up Europe's defence capabilities would not undermine the transatlantic military alliance.

Mr Straw insisted that he was a "100 per cent signed-up Atlanticist", describing Tony Blair as "200 per cent". But it was clear that American objections could still wreck the deal struck by senior officials in Berlin last week. The Foreign Secretary said: "There is a process of discussion to take place with our partners. This has to be done on a consultative basis."

Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, was reported to have telephoned two EU ministers during the talks at Naples, though Mr Straw said he had last spoken to Mr Powell on Thursday. However it will be Mr Rumsfeld, the Pentagon hawk, rather than the doveish Mr Powell, who will present the main obstacle to the deal under which the EU would gain an operational military planning cell for the first time.

Leaks of the agreement in the French press suggest Franco-German plans for a separate HQ will be scrapped. But the French Foreign Minister, Dominique de Villepin, added to the confusion when he said that details were still be discussed and he hoped for the "most ambitious solution".

At their meeting yesterday, the Italian presidency of the EU laid down ground rules under which groups of countries will be able to engage in closer defence co-operation, if they have the capability, by 2007, to intervene in operations of up to four months' duration.

Mr Straw claimed that any one of the 25 present and future EU nations would have veto on the launch of a mission by the smaller group. But that interpretation did not appear to be borne out by a new protocol circulated by the Italian presidency last night.

The meeting failed to solve any of the key outstanding issues which are blocking agreement on the constitution, due to be finalised at a summit on 12-13 December. But it moved several steps closer to a series of likely compromises and backed a plan for an EU foreign minister combining the roles of Javier Solana, the foreign policy representative appointed by member states, and Chris Patten, the European Commissioner for external relations.

The UK still objects to the term "foreign minister" but the weakness of his opposition was illustrated by the fact that Mr Straw used the term himself. The big blockage rests with Spain and Poland which have both rejected proposals to abolish member states' weighted votes in EU decision-making, agreed in Nice in 2000, which favour them disproportionately to their population size.

Mr Straw pressed for a delay on a decision on a new system, because the 2000 Nice Treaty voting plan is legally bound to stay in place until 2009. He argued: "It's only 2003 now, why do we have to have an unnecessary argument about this? Why not have a rendez-vous clause [delaying the decision until a later point] for somewhere closer to 2009, and in the light of experience we can then decide whether Nice is working or it's not working." His suggestion that this plan was being floated by the Italian presidency drew a rebuff from Italy's foreign minister, Franco Frattini. He said: "We have not spoken in terms of a rendez-vous clause. That would be totally mistaken." But he did say that, with the system being in place until 2009, "there will be a chance to see whether it works".

Germany is determined to get a deal on a new system outlined in the draft constitution under which decisions would need the support of 50 per cent of countries representing 60 per cent of the EU population. But Germany's Foreign Minister, Joschka Fischer, said he left Naples "more concerned" about divisions. "There is the question whether the enlarged Europe will meet the challenges or fall back."

ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

2nd Line Application Support Analyst

£35000 - £45000 per annum + benefits: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: This is a...

Installation Manager

£35000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitment Company...

Sales Engineer - Cowes - £30K-£40K

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Sales Engineer - Cow...

Tax Investigations Manager/Senior Manager

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits: Cameron Kennedy Recruitment: This rapidl...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice