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29 Apr 03. The FT reported that France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg announced plans to create a central military headquarters that could ultimately rival Nato and lead to a clash with the US. (See ‘EUROFIGHTER TYPHOON FULL REQUIREMENT AT RISK FOLLOWING REVIEW’)

Leaders of the four countries held a defence summit in Brussels that was designed to create a stronger military policy to underpin the European Union’s common foreign and security policy. Jacques Chirac, French president, said the summit had not been directed against the Nato alliance.

The Belgian prime minister, Guy Verhofstadt, said the summit was merely building on previous calls by Berlin, Paris – and London – to strengthen Europe’s defence capabilities. But US and Nato officials said they were not convinced. Britain said it would “study the plans in more detail” when EU foreign ministers discuss them in Greece at the weekend. Vladimir Putin, Russian president, also struck an independent tone on Tuesday, embarrassing Tony Blair, UK prime minister at a joint press conference in Moscow.

Mr Putin insisted that sanctions against Iraq could not be lifted until inspections to dismantle any weapons of mass destruction were complete, and demanded a strong role for the United Nations. Mr Blair had hoped to ease tensions after Russia lined up with France and Germany in the UN Security Council to oppose the war against Saddam Hussein.

Germany tried to water down the wording of some of the proposals of the summit in Brussels – in particular by preventing any reference to an “independent” central military headquarters. Germany also kept London informed of the contents of the final summit document.

Gerhard Schröder, the German Chancellor, and Mr Blair are seeking to repair relations after taking different views over war in Iraq. But Mr Schröder failed to kill the plan for the HQ – leading one British official to question Germany’s influence with France and Belgium. Colin Powell, US secretary of state, criticized what he called “some kind of plan” to create a new EU military headquarters in Brussels. He told a Senate foreign relations committee hearing on Nato enlargement that what was needed was more military capability, not more headquarters.

Nato also had sharp words for the initiative: “It is strange how they call for extra capabilities without any commitment to extra financing,” said one Nato diplomat. He added that the alliance was also worried about the Europeans duplicating Nato assets. Ana Palacio, Spain’s foreign minister, said attempts to build a European defence initiative outside the EU “had no right be called European”.

Of the four nations attending Tuesday’s summit, only France has significantly increased its defence budget. Germany continues to cut spending and Belgium and Luxembourg have failed to restructure their armed forces.

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