Defence ministers from the 27 EU states will meet in the French town of Deauville to discuss ways to strengthen EU missions in Bosnia, Chad and Georgia as they face mounting security challenges and dwindling budgets.
Facing mounting security challenges and dwindling budgets, EU ministers meet on Wednesday on a French drive to boost EU defence that Paris has made a condition for its full reintegration into NATO.
Defence Ministers from the 27 EU states will discuss ways to strengthen EU capabilities and missions in Bosnia and Chad, as well as the deployment of EU observers in Georgia to monitor Russian troop withdrawals, which has already run into problems.
The meeting in the French resort of Deauville coincides with the scheduled launch of the EU monitoring mission in Georgia.
On Tuesday, Russian officials said the observers would not be able to enter security zones adjacent to a breakaway region, highlighting loopholes in a French-brokered ceasefire deal.
France, holder of the rotating EU presidency, aims to focus discussions on improving EU coordination to plug shortfalls in helicopters and transport aircraft and naval cooperation to allow for quick and effective deployments in crises.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has made improving such capabilities a precondition for rejoining NATO military structures President Charles de Gaulle withdrew from in 1966.
De Gaulle took the step after refusing to integrate air defences with NATO's or to allow U.S. nuclear weapons in France, and Paris has continued to see a stronger Europe as a way of balancing U.S. power.
France partially reintegrated into NATO in the 1990s and has made big contributions to alliance missions since. It remains absent from some key NATO forums, but diplomats say an April NATO summit could herald its return.
"We will fully participate in NATO if NATO fully realises the EU has a role too," a French official said.
Diplomats say the push to improve EU defence coordination is also a response to increasing pressures on defence budgets.
GEORGIA SHOULD FOCUS ATTENTION
The official said the Georgia crisis should help focus attention on the need to boost EU capabilities, despite the bloc's failure this year to pass a reform treaty seen as a means to enhance EU foreign policy influence.
"There should be a greater sense of urgency as to the need to reinforce capacity to respond to emergencies," he said.
EU limitations were highlighted this week when officials said they still expect Russia to supply it with transport helicopters for the Chad peace mission despite a cooling of relations following Moscow's intervention in Georgia.
The ministers will discuss an Anglo-French plan to upgrade Europe's existing helicopter fleet to allow them to operate in harsh terrain such as in Afghanistan and Chad. They will also look at a French and German plan for a new transport helicopter.
A British official said Britain wanted to see more EU states helping meet the needs of missions. "We have to make sure it's not just one or two countries making the commitments," he said.
Outlining France's proposals in June, French defence officials spoke of forming a EU naval group based around a French or British aircraft carrier permanently at sea.
But with French plans to build a second carrier now postponed and Britain opposed to moves towards collective EU forces, French officials now talk of greater "interoperability" to allow such a European force to be set up and react quickly.
"It is not to create a permanent European fleet," a French Defence Ministry official stressed this week.
French officials insist a vision of a 60,000-strong EU ground force that could be deployed in hotspots, which has raised eyebrows in some other EU states, remains viable, but concede that realising it will be "tough".
Date created : 2008-10-01