Europe's new army quick to praise US

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The Independent Online
FRANCE, Germany and Belgium yesterday inaugurated the Strasbourg headquarters of the European Corps, the multinational force that they hope will become the kernel of the 'European pillar' of the continent's defence.

The corps, dubbed Eurocorps in Germany, was set up 18 months ago by France and Germany around the 4,200- man French-German Brigade first established in 1989. The aim is to have a force of up to 40,000 soldiers operational by October 1995.

The defence ministers of the three countries attended a ceremony opening the headquarters, staffed by 300 officers and soldiers, under the command of General Helmut Willmann of Germany. Spain has attached observers to the corps and is expected to join shortly.

The three ministers were careful to pay tribute to the US contribution to European defence. Leo Delcroix, the Belgian minister, said that 'only the transatlantic partnership offers us the political and military means to guarantee our security and to maintain or create a stable order both inside and outside Europe'. Volker Ruhe, the German minister, said that Eurocorps made 'the foundations of the transatlantic bridge more solid'.

The aims of the force are common defence of the allies, peace-keeping and humanitarian action. The languages of the corps are French, German and English.

While the founders have insisted that the corps will be under Nato authority, it has aroused the suspicion of other European states, particularly Britain, Italy and The Netherlands, which fear it may encourage a US disengagement from Europe.

An underlying reason for such suspicion is the absence of France from Nato's integrated military command. The practical result is that although France has played a full part in operations such as the Gulf war, under US command, or in UN missions in the former Yugoslavia, it is excluded from some of the main policy-making meetings on European defence.

While various French politicians have stressed their commitment to Nato over the past decade, hinting at a desire for closer ties, rejoining all Nato structures would be seen as a climbdown.

Last week, a senior French source said recent events in Europe showed that the integrated command was 'no longer adequate' and suggested that a new structure, which France could join without losing face, was needed.

With the fall of Communism and the need to redefine European defence within the context of the Maastricht treaty, France has tried to retake the initiative by promoting the Western European Union (WEU), the defence body bringing together the European members of Nato. Under Maastricht, the WEU is responsible for co-ordinating continent-wide defence.

Apart from the French- German brigade in Mullheim, Germany, the Eurocorps will consist of the 10th Panzer division in Sangmaringenet and brigades in Amberg and Bayreuth. The French contribution will be the First Armoured Division in Baden-Baden while Belgium has contributed a mechanised division.

(Photograph omitted)