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Europe

EU Mulls Military Preparedness

EU defense ministers reviewed the bloc's Bosnia mission and discussed whether its forces are sufficiently equipped.

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The EU needs to invest more to keep the peace

The ministers discussed the EU's most ambitious peacekeeping operation abroad informally over lunch at an airbase in southern England, amid speculation that the EUFOR mission there could be downgraded.

The Bosnian Serb parliament recently adopted reforms to unify the country's ethnically divided police force and the country's international envoy has said the EU could soon open talks with Bosnia on a stabilization and association agreement.

The new development comes just before the 10th anniversary of the Dayton peace accord that ended Bosnia's three-year war in December 1995.

Britain rolls out firepower

Before they set their minds to business, the ministers were treated to a 40-minute display of heavy British firepower, as the host country showed how it would secure a hostile airport.

In the first-ever exercise of its kind before EU defense ministers, the military used fighter planes, transport and refueling aircraft, helicopters, artillery and ground troops in a five-phase exercise.

Harrier jump jets flew in low over the ministers' heads to destroy "enemy" vehicles dotted around the Royal Air Force base in Lyneham southern England, guided to their targets by an advance team of reconnaissance paratroopers.

Field artillery was dropped in by Chinook helicopters and fired off rounds as C-130 aircraft deployed supplies and a huge C-17 transport jet landed on a sixpence to bring in jeeps, a truck and personnel.

More competition needed

Deutsche Soldaten der Nato Schutztruppe in der bosnisch serbischen Stadt Celebici SFOR

A German NATO-led soldier in the Bosnian Serb village of Celebici

The ministers also examined a plan to inject real competition into Europe's arms industry through a voluntary, non-binding code of conduct drawn up by the European Defence Agency (EDA).

Under it, defense contracts worth more than one million euros would be advertised on a single electronic portal so companies could tender for them.

At the moment, member states quietly lump their defense deals under a piece of EU legislation -- Article 296 -- which is meant to exempt them from normal market rules only in cases where their security interests are under threat.

But the European Commission, the EU's competition watchdog, plans to crack down on abuses of the article and has forced the industry's hand.

EU defense needs more funds

The talks come amid renewed calls to boost EU defense spending, notably in research and development and in key areas such as mid-air refueling planes, as the EU's theater of operations spreads from the Balkans to Africa.

They also come after US General Joseph Ralston and General Klaus Naumann of Germany warned that Europe could be overwhelmed by security challenges like international terrorism unless it starts pooling its defenses.

"Staying the course is not an option -- indeed, it is a recipe for disaster. Seen in this light, defense integration is not just an appealing or interesting idea: it is an imperative," they said in a report.

British Defense Secretary John Reid, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency and is hosting the informal talks, told The Financial Times that NATO and the EU must work more closely together.

"Part of the big challenge facing us is to make both NATO and the European Union more effective and to make sure, so far as possible, they are complementary, they operate in partnership, and not competitors in a zero-sum game," he said.

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