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Cold War defence alliance to wind down

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(BRUSSELS) - The Cold War-era Western European Union defence alliance, set up in the wake of World War II, is to cease functioning, its assembly's head Robert Walter said on Wednesday.

"The WEU as an organisation will be wound down within a year or so," said British parliamentarian Walter, who presides over the Paris-based assembly of the international grouping.

The body was initiated by Belgium, Britain, France, Luxembourg and the Netherlands in 1948 and later expanded to include Germany, Italy, Spain and others.

Its founding principles were "to afford assistance to each other in resisting any policy of aggression," and "to promote unity and to encourage the progressive integration of Europe."

The very year after it was formed the eclipse of the western European body began with the formation of NATO, with the key inclusion of the United States.

It has since seen its role disappear altogether as the Cold War ended and the 27-nation European Union and NATO presided over a largely peaceful Europe.

Walters said an announcement would be made "in the coming days" on ending the WEU, which is no longer seen as having a useful role in the present-day world.

According to a diplomat, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband wrote this month to the WEU's British delegation informing it of Britain's intention to renounce the body's founding treaty within the coming days.

Many countries hope for a more collective announcement, the source said.

Including associate and observer nations, the WEU is made up of 28 countries including most of the EU members along with Turkey, Iceland and Norway.

It currently has a budget of 13 million euros (17 million dollars) and a staff of 60.

The body's interparliamentary assembly is based in Paris while the official headquarters moved to Brussels a decade ago.

Walter said he expected official notification of the decision to wind the body down to be made by the end of the month.

The WEU's functions have been diminishing for years.

A decision was taken in 2000 to scrap ministerial meetings, since when all decisions have been taken by written procedure.

Britain, less attached to the idea of European integration than France, Spain and others, had remained more interested in the WEU due to its nature as an intergovernmental institution.

The last nail in its coffin was the passage in December of the EU's reforming Lisbon Treaty, which includes an assistance clause and permits the creation of ad hoc interparliamentary groups.

Nonetheless Walter said he hoped, with London's support, that the WEU could be succeeded by a "permanent conference" of representatives of national parliaments in Europe.

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