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Wednesday, 5 February, 2003, 10:24 GMT
UK and France boost defence ties
S-for soldiers
An EU force could replace Nato troops in Bosnia
Britain and France have agreed to strengthen their military co-operation within the European Union.

MILITARY CO-OPERATION
Aircraft carrier group permanently at sea
Pooled military assets
Commitment to press ahead with EU rapid reaction force
Backing for EU mutual defence clause
Proposal for EU defence procurement agency
At a summit in Le Touquet UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and French President Jacques Chirac agreed to pool military resources and to ensure that they had one battle-ready aircraft carrier group at sea at all times.

They also suggested an EU "capabilities agency" to co-ordinate arms procurement, and said they would press for a mutual defence clause in a future EU constitution.

Both countries reaffirmed their commitment to forge ahead with the formation of an EU rapid reaction force of 60,000 men by the end of 2003.

Jacques Chirac (left) and Tony Blair
France and the UK agree that developing the EU's ability to act in the face of new threats means we must intensify efforts to improve military capabilities

Franco-British declaration
"France and the UK agree that developing the EU's ability to act in the face of new threats... means we must intensify efforts to improve military capabilities," Mr Blair and Mr Chirac said in a joint statement.

The two leaders declared support for the imminent takeover by the European rapid reaction force of Nato operations in Macedonia.

They also said they would present joint proposals on future deployment in Bosnia to an EU foreign ministers' meeting later this month.

Mr Blair said he welcomed France's offer to lead the Macedonia peacekeeping operation.

The EU rapid reaction force was first suggested by the two leaders at their Saint-Malo summit in 1998, but its launch was delayed because of disagreements over EU access to Nato's assets, planning and logistics.

These were resolved at the EU's Copenhagen summit last December.

The agency would encourage nations to spend more and spend better

UK defence official
The two leaders said on Tuesday that they planned to have the capacity to deploy land, sea and air forces to a trouble zone within five to 10 days.

The aim behind the suggestion of a European arms procurement agency is to avoid waste and duplication.

"The agency would encourage nations to spend more and spend better," said a British defence official.

"It would mean smaller countires specialising in particular fields such as landing craft or heavy lifting gear rather than trying to everything not very well."

The two countries have already announced that they intend to work together on the design and construction of new aircraft carriers.

A British and a French firm shared a contract awarded last week for the construction of a new aircraft carrier for the UK.

Italy and Spain would also be invited to join the agreement on keeping an aircraft carrier group at sea, officials said.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Jon Sopel
"Forget the smiles for the cameras, relations are strained"
Gilles Bouleau, French TV channel TF1:
"These two guys are not getting on very well"

Talking PointTALKING POINT
French President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Tony Blair at an EU summit in Barcelona, March 2002Tense relations
Will Blair and Chirac heal their rift?
See also:

04 Feb 03 | Politics
04 Feb 03 | Europe
13 Dec 02 | Europe
31 Dec 01 | Review of 2001
09 Dec 00 | Politics
30 Apr 01 | Euro-glossary
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