Europe to offer Nato seats on defence bodies

By Stephen Castle

17 February 2000

Europe is to offer Nato access to the highest level of defence decision-making in an effort to assuage American fears over plans to set up a 60,000-strong "rapid reaction force".

Proposals under discussion in Brussels and London last night would allow key Nato military personnel permanent seats or observer status on Europe's most important military committees.

The move would ensure a firm link between the top military brass in Nato and the EU. Backed by Britain – and by France, traditionally suspicious of Nato involvement – the latest plans are seen as a key element in the creation of a viable European defence policy. The structure was discussed by Javier Solana, EU security chief, and Geoff Hoon, Defence Secretary, in London last night.

Under proposals outlined in a discussion document, Nato's Deputy Supreme Allied Commander in Europe would "normally participate, as appropriate" in the European Military Committee of military representatives of the 15 member states. The document adds that "to provide transparency between the EU and the alliance, the chairmen of the EU and the Nato Military Committees should also be able to attend the other committee".

Under plans approved this week by foreign ministers, Europe will set up a permanent political and security committee in Brussels, which will consider recommendations from the EU Military Committee. There will also be a permanent military staff.

However, a separate document proposes setting up a new European Security and Defence Framework to liaise with European partner countries. This would include six non-EU European Nato members, including Turkey and Norway, and candidates for EU membership, but not the transatlantic Nato partners.

The two documents highlight the difficulty of keeping all EU and Nato interests happy in this highly sensitive initiative. A source said yesterday that the proposals "have done a pretty good job of dividing the baby, with half on one side, half on the other, and no one particularly happy".

However, one EU source said: "Because we are setting up a new framework it does not mean we are forgetting the Americans. When we get around to talking about brass tacks it may be very different."

At the same time, some of the non-EU European Nato members included in the proposed new framework are suspicious that their input will be less than they currently have in the western EU.

Original article