Adjournment Debate. - Proposed EU Defence Force.

Wednesday, 8 December 1999

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 512 No. 4

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Mr. Timmins: Information on Billy Timmins  Zoom on Billy Timmins  From reports in the media it would appear that European Union Foreign Ministers have reached a broad agreement to create a European military crisis management force of up to 60,000 personnel by the year 2003. This follows the submission of a report by the Finnish EU Presidency for discussion and decision by the leaders of the 15 nations at the two day summit in Helsinki, starting on Friday next.

Apparently some member states have reservations on issues such as decision making pro[962] cedures and co-operation with NATO. However, no changes were made to the document. What reservations, if any, were raised by our Minister for Foreign Affairs? If this force is established, it is intended that it will have the ability to act fast in a crisis, strengthen Europe's security identity and reduce dependence on US military power. This dependence on the US has been all too evident in recent conflicts and it is something that Europe should not take for granted in the short or long-term.

The force would consist of up to 60,000 personnel and would include naval and air elements. The project is being driven by France and Germany and the leaders of these countries are reported as saying that the Helsinki summit should agree to set up an EU rapid reaction force with its own command, able to send troops into combat independent of the US led NATO alliance. Britain would also appear to be on-side but, conscious of US sensitivities, a similar declaration was issued by Britain and France which spoke of NATO as the foundation of our collective defence. Chancellor Schroeder appeared to be in a more bullish mood when he asked French deputies, “Why shouldn't Europeans be able to export their own popular culture, conquer markets and offer an alternative to the uniformity that is looming?”.

In Ireland we have just come out of the Partnership for Peace debate. What is the Government's view of this EU defence proposal and will the Taoiseach give this document his endorsement? What is the proposed composition of this force? What will the command and control structures be? What commitments, if any, does the Minister envisage we will have?

I hope some light can be thrown on these issues before next weekend as it is most important for the citizens of this country that they know what is in the Taoiseach's mind as he heads to Helsinki.

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Dr. Moffatt): Information on Tom Moffatt  Zoom on Tom Moffatt  I welcome the opportunity to set out developments in the European Union concerning security and defence. It is important to begin by clarifying what is at issue in the current EU discussions and what is not germane to these discussions. In light of the entry into force of the Amsterdam Treaty, the Cologne European Council last June stated its conviction that the Council should have the ability to take decisions on the full range of conflict prevention and crisis management tasks defined in the Treaty of Amsterdam and known as the Petersberg tasks.

The approach agreed at Cologne, therefore, focuses on the Petersberg tasks and clearly sets to one side issues of collective defence. The outcome of the Cologne European Council was not in conflict with our policy of military neutrality. It reiterated the provision in the Maastricht and Amsterdam treaties concerning the different status of member states in this regard.

Furthermore, and this is a point on which there [963] is some confusion, there is no question of an EU army being set up. What is being considered is the issue of capabilities for Petersberg tasks. When considering this issue it must be borne in mind that participation in the Petersberg tasks under the Treaty of Amsterdam is on a voluntary basis and is a matter for sovereign decision in each and every case.

Events in Kosovo earlier this year have reinforced the view, which the Minister for Foreign Affairs shares, that the EU should be able to respond at an early stage to prevent and resolve conflict and to prevent and manage crises of the sort which have engulfed areas of the Balkans during this decade. Deputies will appreciate that crisis management is a broad spectrum including civilian as well as military dimensions. The Finnish Presidency progress report for the Helsinki European Council will comprise two subsidiary reports on military and non-military aspects respectively.

In preparation for Helsinki, particular consideration has been given to questions of decision making procedures and crisis management capabilities. With regard to decision making, there is a need to ensure that the EU can take effective and informed decisions on Petersberg tasks where necessary. While final decisions are not foreseen until the end of the year 2000, interim structures based in Brussels may be required. A political and security committee manned by high-level experts has been proposed, together with a committee which would have access to sound military expertise as appropriate. Deputies will recognise the need for access to sound military expertise and advice if the EU is to have an enhanced role in regard to the Petersberg tasks.

With regard to crisis management capabilities, I referred earlier to the fact that there is no question of a European army being established and that participation in Petersberg tasks would be voluntary and based on a sovereign decision in every case. Among the ideas which are being considered is a British proposal for a capability target of fifty to sixty thousand, that is, about the size of the KFOR peace keeping force in Kosovo.

In response to questions in this House last week, my colleague, the Minister of State Deputy O'Donnell, paid particular attention to the important work which has been undertaken since the Cologne European Council in seeking to improve the EU's non-military crisis management capabilities. Ireland supports the action plan proposed by the Presidency and sets out concrete proposals, including the development of a rapid reaction capability in this field.

The European Union must be able to work collectively for peace, stability and security in Europe. The key to this is peace keeping and crisis management. The current aim of the EU is to take the necessary decisions by the end of the year 2000.

The EU's contribution will be in harmony with and in support of UN and OSCE efforts. The [964] issue of collective defence obligations is not relevant to the EU debate. Security and defence issues within the EU are intergovernmental matters subject to sovereign decisions of the member states. We look forward to a positive outcome from Helsinki which will guide the EU's on-going efforts, acting on the basis of the Treaty of Amsterdam to play a more effective role in the conduct of the Petersberg tasks.


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