Tuesday, February 04, 2003
Bridging the Channel - 4th February 2003, 20.37

One of the problems with American reactions to the letter signed by the eight countries last Friday was discounting the importance that France places upon its influence in the European Convention. A consensus formed around the costs that France would bear in its relationship with the United States through its current foreign policy. However, France's reaction to the letter was fairly mute, and as certain European leaders pointed out, they were already guilty with Germany of a unilateralist position over Iraq.

France actually benefited from the letter. Whilst conceding policies to federalist Germany in order to revive their alliance, France was not unhappy for other countries to adopt different positions that could sink the common foreign and security policy. Is France so clueless that it thinks it can dominate a union of twenty-five? No. Therefore, any move by other countries that chips away at the federalist goals and promotes intergovernmentalism is cheered from the sidelines by France, since it furthers their own interests and weakens the German half of their axis.

Today, French intergovernmentalism was on display agreeing the formation of a European Union battlecarrier group, in tandem with Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom. Not a good idea when you consider the Charles De Gaulle's problems. The meeting between Blair and Chirac was not about Iraq but about advancing European defence.

Britain's aircraft carriers could be used in combined European humanitarian and peacekeeping missions under a plan to be developed at the summit. Under the scheme, Britain's carriers would work in rotation with those of France, Spain and Italy.

A European "capabilities" agency and a mutual assistance arrangement, or "solidarity clause", under which EU neighbours would assist each other if faced by a major terrorist attack, would also be established under the plans. The capabilities agency would seek to make the most of EU defence spending by encouraging states to focus their efforts on areas in which they have particular expertise.

Expanding the pool of carriers would mean that at least one would always be available for such missions. At present, training and maintenance demands mean that is not always the case.

Missions would be authorised ultimately by the EU's general affairs council - the meetings of foreign ministers - although defence officials emphasised that operational control of the carriers would be retained by the providing nations.

Britain has three carriers - HMS Ark Royal, Illustrious and Invincible - but is due to replace them with two larger vessels. France has one carrier but is planning two. Italy and Spain, which each have one carrier, are expected to be invited to join the initiative.

No sign here of any drawing away from European integration and, of course, look who brings the most to the table. Who thinks Blair is a foreign policy genius now?


Post a Comment

Blog Archive