16 October 1999                          

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Small EU countries alarmed by European defence plans

Small EU countries have expressed alarm by the scale of French and German proposals for new European defence capacity.

The plan became public during the recent summit in Tampere, Finland. According to The Independent (16 October 1999), it "provoked alarm among small countries, Europe's neutral states and the presidency of the EU, highlighting the acute sensitivity of Mr Solana's new role as representative of member states".

The Independent said that the plan "also raised the prospect of Mr Solana becoming the predominant foreign policy voice of the EU, with Chris Patten, the external affairs commissioner, playing a more back-seat role".

The letter, circulated as heads of government met in Tampere, called for Mr Solana to chair a permanent political and security committee of the EU, to "take on a high-profile role in representing the EU externally", and to take a key role in dialogue between the EU and third countries or international organisations.

The Independent reported that several member states, including Britain, back the idea of Mr Solana taking over the secretary generalship of the Western European Union, the defence organisation likely to be folded into Europe's new defence structure.

However the scale of the Franco-German plan provoked opposition from a range of countries which saw the move as a power grab. One diplomat said to the paper: "The opposition is coming from small countries, the neutrals and the presidency."

According to The Independent, British officials were relaxed about the position of Mr Patten, who represents external affairs for the European Commission. His position was secure because he controlled the purse strings of EU spending, he added.

Detailed plans to boost European defence capacity will be debated at a summit in Helsinki in December.

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