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Europe

Big Three Agree on European Defense Deal

Germany, France and Britain have agreed on a EU defense plan that will see the bloc create an autonomous military headquarters in Brussels and strengthen its established strategic planning units.

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The subject of defense has long over-shadowed any talks on the EU draft constitution.

After the first day of tense discussions at the meeting of European Union foreign ministers in Naples on Friday, Germany, France and Britain agreed on a plan which will reinforce the EU’s military capabilities and create an autonomous EU military headquarters in Brussels while not undermining NATO or infuriating the United States.

The agreement, the laboriously-negotiated conclusion to talks on the sidelines of the EU draft constitution meeting, was eventually confirmed late in the evening in an announcement by French foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin after British officials had insisted on informing Washington before going public.

The United States has been highly critical of plans put forward by Germany, France, Belgium and Luxembourg to launch a separate EU military planning cell, which it believed would compromise the role of NATO and cause unnecessary and confusing duplication of operations. Things were made worse last month when Germany leaked details of discussions suggesting that British Prime Minister Tony Blair was seeking to mend fences in Europe by conceding on the European defense proposals.

Planning cell set for Mons

While remaining firmly aligned with the thoughts of Washington at the time of tensions over the EU plans, Britain has now agreed with France and Germany that the bloc will set up its planning cell at Shape, NATO’s military headquarters near Mons in Belgium. From there, EU military planners would, with the alliance's backing, draw on NATO assets -- notably transport planes, satellite intelligence and the alliance's communications network -- for peacekeeping missions.

British officials, however, diluted this section of the agreement in a separately released statement shortly after the formal announcement had been made, insisting that the Cortenberg option would only have a skeleton staff and be used only if national headquarters in Britain, France and Germany were unavailable.

Brussels HQ to be strengthened

The agreement also sees the strengthening of the EU’s operational strategic planning unit at Cortenberg in Brussels from where, in time, independent European military operations similar to the French-led EU peacekeeping operation in the Congo this year could be coordinated.

The “big three” have also agreed that "structured cooperation" in defence can go ahead. This will allow certain countries, which meet certain military criteria, within the EU to be included in military planning and operations.

Constitution woes continue

The EU foreign ministers will continue discussing the fine tuning of the draft European Union constitution over the weekend with Italian officials, representing the current EU presidency, hoping to have a document agreed on by Sunday. Their optimism is not shared by many of the other ministers attending the Naples meeting.

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