08 September 2011 defencemanagement.com
Plans to build a single "operational headquarters" for European defence could be pushed through by European Union foreign ministers despite the UK using its veto to block the project earlier this year, it has been reported.
The proposals were put forward by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, a Labour peer, at a meeting of European Union foreign ministers in July but were immediately vetoed by UK Foreign Secretary William Hague.
A report in the Daily Telegraph claims that five major European countries have called on Baroness Ashton to press ahead with the plans, overriding Britain's veto as "a matter of urgency" using a process known as "structured cooperation".
The confidential letter dated 2 September read: "France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Spain remain at your disposal to support your work in this regard.
"We believe it remains the most comprehensive basis for further work on all the issues: capabilities, including civil-military planning and conduct capability, battle groups and EU/NATO relations.
"We encourage you to examine all institutional and legal options available to member states, including permanent structured cooperation, to develop critical Common Security and Defence Policy capabilities, notably a permanent planning and conduct capability."
Structured cooperation would allow countries to develop the HQ with a majority vote, effectively bypassing the UK's veto and allowing plans for the single site, staffed by 250 personnel, to go ahead.
An unnamed British government spokesman told the Daily Telegraph: "Structured co-operation was designed to encourage member states to work together to increase European capabilities. It is inappropriate to use EU mechanisms to advance the political agendas of only a few member states."
"…Focusing energy and resources on a project which is essentially about symbolism represents a costly distraction from investment in the defence and civilian capabilities that are really required, and will do nothing to increase political will to act."
Geoffrey Van Orden MEP, Conservative defence and security spokesman in the European Parliament , said EU plans for defence capabilities were a "constant distraction".
"The EU brings no additional military capabilities to the table. An autonomous EU defence policy is primarily an instrument of European political integration.
"An EU OHQ merely duplicates the tested and successful structures at NATO and in our nations. It is a costly, divisive and unnecessary initiative at a time when defence capabilities across Europe are being slashed.
"The ambition for EU Defence is a constant distraction, affects the participation of European countries in key NATO missions and confuses the Americans."