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The BBC's Mark Laity reports
"Kosovo revealed the embarrassing truth"
 real 28k

Friday, 10 December, 1999, 10:10 GMT
Eurocorps: A truly European defence force?

The Franco-German brigade The Franco-German brigade: Critics say its is merely a gesture

By defence correspondent Mark Laity

For 50 years, Europe concentrated on ending past rivalries that created centuries of conflict.

But now it is also trying to build a defence system that reflects the continent's future strength and growing togetherness.

The Franco-German Brigade, formed 10 years ago, certainly signalled the end of traditional hatreds.

Old enemies now train together, in combat simulators.

But mixing different nationalities in small units is rarely efficient. Critics say the brigade also symbolise what is wrong with Euro-defence - it is more of a gesture than a force with true capability.

European spending low

Kosovo revealed the embarrassing truth, with US air power and high technology doing most of the work.

We have to improve European commitment from Europe.
UK Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon
And when Nato entered Kosovo, Europe could barely scrape enough troops together to send. Britain did best, but was still badly stretched.

Europe mostly spends too little, and often not wisely, UK Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon says.

"When we needed it, the European nations could only get 2% of their forces into the theatre at a time and in a place, and in a way that was useful.

"We have to improve that commitment from Europe," Mr Hoon said.

The Eurocorps could be part of the answer.


It grew out of the much smaller Franco-German Brigade, and now involves five nations, although not Britain.

A Utopian venture to create a European superstate
Lady Thatcher
F Europe's leaders meeting in Helsinki are expected to back a plan promising 60,000 European troops will always be ready to deploy at short notice.

More controversially, they will agree on giving the EU the ability to act if Nato does not.

or some, like former UK prime minister Lady Thatcher, speaking this week, it has raised fears of a slippery slope to a European army.

"The real drive towards a separate European defence is the same as that towards a single European currency, which I am against," Baroness Thatcher said, "namely the Utopian venture of creating a single European superstate to rival America on the world stage."

French ambivalence towards Nato

France, with its ambivalence towards both Nato and the US, causes most worries.

The Eurocorps they were instrumental in creating is not Nato controlled, but it works closely with the alliance, and the French, British and Germans have emphasised European military action will only follow if Nato does not get involved.

American politicians, such as Defence Secretary Bill Cohen, are cautiously reassured by the words of leaders like Nato's Secretary-General, George Robertson.

"He and others will insist that what is done to strengthen the European pillar must be seen in the context of strengthening Nato, and not inconsistent with it and not divisive," Mr Cohen said.

Political symbol

Kosovo could be an early test. The Eurocorps has offered to take command there, but firmly under Nato control.

Proof it says that a stronger European defence will not threaten the alliance.

When it was formed, the Franco-German Brigade was more a political symbol than militarily useful.

But now its commanders say it has come of age, and that it and the Eurocorps are the spearhead of a truly European force.

The challenge now is to prove that, without alienating the Americans or undermining Nato.

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Expansion plans overshadowed at EU summit
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EU defence force outlined
18 Oct 99 |  Europewide Debate
Is a common European defence policy possible?
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