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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 April, 2003, 15:51 GMT 16:51 UK
'Anti-war' four boost euro-role
Four leaders at Brussels talks
The four leaders have been under heavy criticism for their summit
Four European Union countries which opposed the war in Iraq have ended a mini-summit in Brussels by announcing closer defence ties.

The leaders of France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg say their plans include creating a joint military planning system by next year and a multinational headquarters for European military operations where Nato is not involved.

They also intend to set up their own rapid reaction force. They want to launch a European Security and Defence Union, which others would be encouraged to join.

The transatlantic partnership remains an essential strategic priority for Europe
Joint statement

The BBC's Chris Morris in Brussels says Europe's anti-war coalition has put down its marker for the future - it wants the EU to have a stronger, more effective defence capability, and the four are prepared to go it alone to begin with if they have to.

The four countries attending the Brussels summit had been accused of running an anti-Nato, anti-US summit which excluded Europe's pro-war nations.

The four have denied the charges, insisting that their plans are not intended as a snub to Nato.

A statement issued by the leaders after their talks in Brussels stressed that Nato remained a cornerstone of European defence policy.

'New steps'

"The transatlantic partnership remains an essential strategic priority for Europe," said the statement.

But they did make clear they were seeking closer ties between EU members.

"The time has come to take new steps in the construction of a Europe of security and defence based on strengthened European military capabilities, which will also give a new vitality to the Atlantic alliance," the statement said.

We won't accept, and neither will the rest of Europe, anything that either undermines Nato or conflicts with the basic principles of European defence we've set out
Tony Blair,
UK Prime Minister

The EU's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, and the country currently holding the EU presidency, Greece, did not attend the summit.

Nato spokesman Yves Brodeur welcomed the commitment to the alliance, but said there were concerns.

"But we are concerned about how extra capabilities will be delivered without extra resources, and we are also concerned about the risk of unnecessary duplication," Mr Brodeur said.

Hopes that Europe was ready to move closer to a common defence and foreign policy have been left in tatters by the Iraq war, which polarised the EU into pro- and anti-war camps.

Summit doubters

The mini-summit had been accused of risking a worsening of the rift - and critics pointed out that it had excluded the EU's biggest military power, the UK.

The UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair, attempted on Monday to play down the summit's significance.

"We won't accept, and neither will the rest of Europe, anything that either undermines Nato or conflicts with the basic principles of European defence we've set out," he said.

Italy, Spain and the Netherlands had also expressed reservations.




SEE ALSO:
EU flounders over Iraq
17 Apr 03  |  Europe
Iraq: EU wants key role for UN
17 Apr 03  |  Europe
UK warns Europe over Iraq
16 Apr 03  |  Europe
Blair meets Chirac after rift
23 Mar 03  |  Politics
UK and France boost defence ties
05 Feb 03  |  Europe
EU gets its military fist
13 Dec 02  |  Europe


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