Germans set sights on EU military alliance

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Germany has set its sights on revamping the defence structure of Europe, creating a European Union-wide military alliance. The vision, likely to be opposed by Britain and the EU's neutral member-states, was outlined yesterday by the Foreign Minister, Klaus Kinkel.

Speaking to the daily Handelsblatt, he called for an amendment to the Maastricht Treaty to allow the EU's notional defence arm, the Western European Union, to be integrated within the organisation. The transition to a fully-fledged "European pillar" within Nato is envisaged in three stages and would be completed in seven to 10 years.

Britain says such a change would undermine Nato, which has served the continent well. Though Bonn also professes to be a keen Nato ally, Mr Kinkel describes strengthening Europe's own security system as "indispensable".

Germany is also proposing at the current round of the Inter-governmental Conference the appointment of a Europe-wide foreign and security supremo, a general secretary who, in Mr Kinkel's words, "will sit in Brussels like a spider in a web".

This person, answerable to the EU's Council of Ministers, would be endowed with wide powers, though not as sweeping as France would like.

Asked if Germany supported French calls for the appointment of a more powerful "EU foreign minister", Mr Kinkel replied: "Europe is not yet ready for that." German caution about this yet-to-be created office stems largely from France's choice for the vacancy: Valery Giscard d'Estaing, the former French president.

With the EU set to expand in the coming years, Mr Kinkel argues for more centralisation, a strengthening of the hands of the Commission president and the powers of the European parliament. Such a development would reduce the influence of national parliaments and national sovereignty. The president could be elected by the European parliament, he suggests, and should be allowed more influence in choosing other commissioners, who would be fewer.

For efficiency, Mr Kinkel intends dispensing with the assent of every- member state. "We are ... at the limit of our possibilities," he said.

"With 20 or more members, the Union will no longer be be able to act if it is saddled with the current decision-making process."

Under German proposals, member-states' right of veto would be retained only on security and on certain budgetary matters, whilst other areas would be governed by the qualified-majority principle.

The system Mr Kinkel proposes favours the big states, preventing the minnows from ganging up on the countries Germany thinks have earned their right to lead Europe. Britain, France and Germany combined could see off the rest of the continent. Efficiency also dictates that some states forgo their right for a place in the EU's decision-making organ.