Britain vetos EU military HQ plans
(BRUSSELS) - Britain rejected plans Monday for a permanent European Union military headquarters, putting it at odds with its ally France amid stalled efforts to launch a common EU defence policy.
"The United Kingdom will not agree to such a permanent OHQ (operational headquarters)," British Foreign Secretary William Hague said after meeting with EU counterparts in Brussels.
"We will not agree to it now. We will not agree to it in the future. That is a red line for us," he said after London applied its veto power against the proposal under EU rules.
Voicing London's traditional attachment to the transatlantic alliance with the United States, Britain's chief diplomat said an EU military headquarters would be costly and create wasteful duplication with NATO.
The creation of a permanent HQ was part of a report presented to the ministers by EU foreign and security policy chief Catherine Ashton in a bid to breath new life into EU defence policy.
But Hague said he was "unable to welcome" the report because of the headquarters plan. The ministers failed to issue any statement on defence policy at the end of their talks.
London's intransigence puts it at odds with France even though the two nations signed a historic military cooperation pact last November and are leading the NATO air war against Moamer Kadhafi's regime in Libya.
The idea of a permanent EU headquarters was backed by "a very large majority" of states, including France, Germany and Poland, which form the pro-EU defence trio known as the "Weimar Triangle," a French diplomat said.
Ashton said she will consider other options following the British veto. Sources said another option in the report proposed to revitalise existing structures.
"The British have made their position absolutely clear," Ashton told a news conference.
"I put forward the options in the paper. We continue to explore what we might be able to do but I'm conscious that you can't do much if you don't have all members states and you need unanimity," the English baroness said.
Despite the British veto, the foreign ministers from the Weimar Triangle issued a joint statement saying Ashton's report was still on the table.
"Our three countries want her to continue work with member states on this basis," said France's Alain Juppe, Germany's Guido Westerwelle and Poland's Radoslaw Sikorski.
Paris has pleaded since 2007 for the opening of an operations centre in Brussels that would serve as the headquarters for the 27-nation bloc's civil and military missions abroad.
In her report, Ashton said the current system posed organisational problems because it relies on five national headquarters spread across Europe: in Germany, France, Greece, Italy and Britain.
The report also called for sharing defence capacities, improving EU-NATO relations and operational engagements by EU tactical groups.
Poland had hoped to make European defence a cornerstone of its six-month chairmanship of the EU, which ends in December, but the British veto applies yet another break on such ambitions.
The EU's nearly two-year-old Lisbon Treaty foresees the deepening of military cooperation between EU states, with the ultimate goal of building a common security and defence policy.
The chief of the French armed forces, Admiral Edouard Guillaud, has said that the project was in "hibernation."