- The Washington Times - Friday, December 14, 2001

Europe's army, Europe's constitution, and Europe's role in the global war on terrorism all face critical tests as European Union leaders gather today in the Belgian royal palace of Laeken for a summit designed to chart the future of the 15-nation bloc.
Diplomats predict horse-trading and high principles will dominate the discussions inside the palace today and tomorrow. Yesterday, some 80,000 protesters gathered in the streets of Brussels for the first major anti-globalization rally since the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington.
With negotiations going right up to the summit's opening gavel, EU leaders will be asked to declare an EU defense force operational and ready to be deployed by 2003, approve a yearlong convention of ministers and EU parliamentarians to draft a European-wide constitution, and debate a host of contentious institutional reforms to prepare for the addition of up to 12 new Eastern and Central European countries by 2004.
"We are confident we will be ready as a candidate for the EU by 2004," Latvian Foreign Minister Indulis Berzins said in an interview this week. His country is considered one of front-runners for membership.
"The real question is whether the EU will be ready for us," he said.
September 11 promises to play a major role in the talks, with Italy having just ended its lone holdout to the establishment of an EU arrest-warrant program designed to combat international terrorist networks.
EU leaders will also consider a joint border police force and improved judicial cooperation. Several cells of the al Qaeda terrorist network including one in Hamburg, Germany, that is believed to have plotted the September 11 attacks operated in EU countries.
But Afghanistan also has affected the debate over building a European defense force by 2003. Europe's minor role in the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan is yet another reminder of the sharp disparity between American war-fighting capabilities and those of the continent.
Conceived as a 60,000-troop rapid deployment force to be used in peacekeeping and humanitarian missions, the EU army could be expanded to include special operations forces like those the United States has deployed in its hunt for Osama bin Laden.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder told German legislators earlier this week that defeating international terrorism required "not less, but more Europe."
EU leaders are expected to declare the European force operational, even though several recent studies have found that defense budgets of a number of EU countries have not matched their promises to the force.
A reform summit in Nice, France, last year produced only minimal progress amid embarrassing public squabbling. Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, the summit host as holder of the rotating EU presidency through the end of the year, faces many of the same national jealousies and conflicting visions as the Laeken gathering gets under way.

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