- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 29, 2003

NAPLES — A plan by France, Britain and Germany to craft an independent military role for the European Union while keeping NATO as the continent’s primary defender won broad support yesterday from foreign ministers meeting to draft the new EU constitution.

The plan would create a planning and command cell for the EU at NATO’s military headquarters in southern Belgium. The EU could use the alliance’s intelligence, communications network and transport planes for peackeeping operations under the proposal.

The proposed defense policy includes a mutual defense guarantee, similar to the one in the NATO treaty.

The draft text reads: “If a member state is the victim of an armed aggression on its territory, the other member states shall give it aid and assistance by all the means in their power.”

With the agreement, the 15 members of the European Union and the 10 nations slated to join in May will be able to endorse a common defense strategy at a Dec. 12-13 summit, even though some details of the military policy must still be resolved, said French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin.

“Our proposals were very well received by all participants,” said Mr. de Villepin on the second day of a two-day meeting to negotiate the European Union’s first constitution.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, the chairman of the talks, said at the close of the meeting that the deal marked “a major step forward” for the European Union.

Despite what Mr. de Villepin called a “breakthrough” on defense, the ministers failed to resolve other thorny questions, including whether the new constitution specifically should mention Europe’s Christian heritage or how the bloc will make common decisions on foreign policy.

The European Union’s military operations are not intended to replace NATO, the alliance that has protected the continent since the Cold War.

“Everybody now recognizes the primacy … of NATO,” British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said. “What the EU does is to complement this.”

Foreign ministers sought to craft language that would defuse fears in Austria, Ireland, Sweden and Finland — the four neutral states — that the European Union is becoming militarized. It is also designed to win support from the United States, which seeks assurances that the European Union won’t undermine NATO unity or duplicate alliance operations.

The 10 states joining the EU in May are Poland, Hungary, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Cyprus, Malta and the Czech Republic.

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