In his most detailed comments yet, Javier Solana, the new European high representative for foreign affairs, argued for a powerful new EU forcethat could be deployed to defend Europe's "moral values", as well as its direct interests.
Mr Solana, the former secretary general of Nato, said he backed Italian proposals for the EU to be given an extra seat on the UN Security Council, without necessarily removing the British or French seat.
While he acknowledged that time will be needed to adapt the Security Council "to the new reality" of international relations, Mr Solana's call reflects the scale of his ambitions and may unnerve the US, which is jumpy about the development of an EU military capability.
Earlier, in a speech to the European Parliament, Mr Solana argued that there was no question of breaking the transatlantic link. Allies such as the United States would, he said, be more willing to co- operate if the EU strengthened its capabilities and was therefore taken seriously. "We need to be able to react swiftly in crises where our direct interests are not necessarily at risk but where something else is at risk - our moral values".
The intervention follows Monday's ground-breaking meeting of European defence and foreign ministers, which agreed to press ahead with proposals to earmark a rapid reaction force, probably about 40,000-strong, for crisis intervention and peace-keeping.
Mr Solana made clear that the project, due to be launched at a summit of EU leaders in Helsinki next month, will require more spending in some countries, and a big reorganisation of capabilities throughout the EU. "Governments need not only to restructure expenditure but maybe also to put in a little fresh money," he added.
Mr Solana added that the extent of restructuring was illustrated by the mismatch between numbers and capabilities. "In Europe, if you count the number of soldiers on paper it is close to one million. But we have very serious difficulty in Kosovo in deploying 40,000." The EU's 15 member states have so far failed to agree on how to beef up their military spending and on whether "convergence criteria" should be applied to ensure equal spending. Germany is one nation with difficulties because a large proportion of its military spending goes towards maintaining a conscript army.
The call for a seat on the Security Council is unlikely to receive a warm reception in Washington, which believes that Europe is already over- represented in other international bodies such as the G7.
Neither is Britain or France expected to back the plan, fearing it would lead to an eventual erosion of their roles there. Yesterday the Foreign Office minister Keith Vaz said the idea was "not on the agenda".Reuse content