- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 25, 2001

British Prime Minister Tony Blair was "hoodwinked" into supporting a European defense force that has the potential to create serious strains within the NATO alliance, the top foreign policy spokesman for Britains opposition Conservative Party said in an interview.
Francis Maude, the shadow foreign minister for the Conservatives, said the Labor government of Mr. Blair "genuinely thinks it can have it both ways — taking the lead on a separate European defense force while preserving the trans-Atlantic tie."
"But the devil is in the details, and we have seen some very worrying things in the details that have already come out," Mr. Maude said.
The Conservative lawmaker was in Washington this week for meetings with top officials of the Bush administration, who have supported — with reservations — a French-led proposal for a European Union-organized force that could carry out missions that the United States and the NATO alliance as a whole have declined to undertake.
Because of its long-standing "special relationship" with the United States, Britains participation in the European defense force has constantly been cited by backers as proof that the idea is not anti-American.
Mr. Maude said his party did not oppose the idea in principle, but he argued that recent proposals for a separate military planning staff and training regimen have exposed the forces potential to divide the EU from the United States.
He said that NATOs deputy commander — by tradition a European officer — would be the logical choice to head such a force if it were truly integrated into NATO. Instead, plans now call for an independent European commander for the force
"We feel that the agenda here is to gradually turn the EU into a competing superpower to the United States," Mr. Maude said in an interview Monday afternoon.
"We find the whole impulse here very dangerous," he added. "We dont see Europe as a competitor to America. We like to think were on the same side."
Polls suggest Mr. Maudes Conservatives face an uphill battle in unseating the Labor government, with Mr. Blair widely expected to call a general election in early June. The prime minister enjoyed a close personal and ideological relationship with former President Bill Clinton, and he has attempted to create comparably close ties with President Bush.
Mr. Maude said he did not expect foreign policy issues to play a major role in the upcoming elections, but noted that the Conservatives more Euro-skeptic stance is one area where the party enjoys strong popular backing.

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