German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer on Thursday distanced Berlin from plans to create EU military headquarters separate from NATO. The proposal had created tension with Washington.
Joschka Fischer is heading to Washington next week for talks.
In a move likely to be seen as an olive branch in the continuing smoothing of relations between Germany and the United States, the German government has softened its stance on the creation of a large and independent military planning headquarters for EU-led military operations.
"I do not believe you need another big operational headquarters such as (NATO’s planning arm) SHAPE," said Joschka Fischer, the German foreign minister. "You have a NATO planning headquarters, and there are headquarters in Britain, France and Germany."
The conciliatory message from Berlin makes it almost certain that Germany will support a more modest alternative to the proposed EU headquarters in Brussels that will not compete with or duplicate existing or future NATO facilities.
Eight months to make u-turn
Germany’s new position is in direct contrast to that taken in April when the subject was first mooted at a meeting with France, Luxembourg and Belgium. The so-called "mini summit," especially the claim from the four nations that the EU's defense and security policy should be backed up by an independent military planning headquarters, upset London and Washington.
US and UK fear NATO duplication.
Britain and the United States quickly dismissed the proposals, fearing the creation of such a headquarters would not only compete with NATO but would also create autonomous European defense structures which would undermine the transatlantic Alliance.
Operational planning staff still needed
Despite the change in tone coming from Berlin on Thursday, German and French officials remain committed to having some operational planning capability in Brussels, where the EU's military staff is involved only in strategic planning. Javier Solana, the EU foreign policy chief and the man also responsible for the bloc's defense and security policy, has also voiced his support for such a move.
Fischer’s remarks seem to have been well-planned and delivered as part of a two-pronged strategy aimed at continuing the mending of relations with Washington. German-American ties were badly damaged during the run-up to the U.S.-led war against Iraq, which Berlin strongly opposed.
Fischer will travel to the United States next week to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice in Washington. Meanwhile, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder will hold discussions in New York with U.S. business leaders on Thursday.
With the mood improving across the Atlantic, the Germans will also be anxious to secure Britain's support on EU security issues at the intergovernmental conference negotiations that could give Europe's defense policy a push forward.
London’s stance has also softened in recent weeks and it looks possible that a compromise can be found at the negotiations. British Prime Minister Tony Blair will reiterate the British suggestion that a separate EU planning center is created in Mons near Brussels, in order to maintain maximum links between NATO and the EU's defense forces.