Five European Union defence ministers have signed an agreement to launch a
joint 3,000-strong gendarmerie force to be deployed to hotspots worldwide.
French police will be part of the new force
The force will initially involve France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands, but will be open to others in the future.
It is earmarked for post-conflict peacekeeping, maintaining public order and other policing duties.
The plan was signed in Noordwijk, in the Netherlands.
The European Gendarmerie Force (EGF) will be based in Vicenza, northeastern Italy.
It will be deployed to areas such as the Balkans to help restore stability but not to Iraq, where insurgents have created de facto no-go areas.
The EGF will have a core of 800-900 members ready to deploy within 30 days and a pool of 2,300 reinforcements on standby. It will include elements from the French gendarmes, Italian Carabinieri and their equivalents from Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands.
EU flexes muscles
The BBC's European news editor, Bill Hayton, says that since the slaughter in Bosnia in the early 1990s the EU has envisaged creating a robust intervention force - something between the neutrality of traditional UN peacekeeping and Nato's cruise missiles.
"If the force can be active and deployed in 2005, that would be rather swift," said Dutch Defence Minister Henk Kamp. The Netherlands holds the rotating
presidency of the EU.
EU officials say the success of military missions in Macedonia in 2001 and the Congolese city of Bunia last year shows how the intervention policy can work without duplicating the efforts of the Nato military alliance.
The plan is for the new gendarmerie to be sent to places where law and order has deteriorated but not completely broken down, or where a conflict has subsided and heavily-armed troops are no longer needed, the BBC analyst says.
Nato will hand over command of a 7,000-strong peacekeeping force in Bosnia to the EU in December.