, Europe's defence ministers yesterday backed ambitious plans to have their armed forces capable of working together by 2010. The radical plans would apply to resources, doctrines and equipment.
The initiative is part of a strategy aimed at creating defence structures in the European Union that are more coherent, homogenous and able to respond quickly to crises.
Even though 11 European Union countries are members of the Nato military alliance, EU member states have made little progress towards harmonising the military equipment they purchase or co-ordinating their capabilities.
The calls for a greater push on military capabilities were made by Javier Solana, the EU foreign policy chief, and Antonio Martini, defence minister of Italy, also chairing the EU's rotating presidency.
Both said Europe's ambitions to have a strong and effective security and defence policy – particularly in crisis management, conflict prevention and peacekeeping missions – could not be achieved without better capabilities. These included logistics and the ability to sustain troops on the ground for long periods.
A paper presented by Italy, said that if the EU wanted to be active “it must develop a strategic culture that favours early, rapid and, when necessary, robust intervention in order to try to head off or defuse crises”.
Italy also called for a special agency to co-ordinate capabilities among the member states. Geoff Hoon, British defence minister, and Henk Kamp, his Dutch counterpart, suggested Mr Solana head the agency, which could be set up by December.
Mr Solana, who has spent the past four years trying to improve Europe's security/defence capabilities, said there was little point in member countries offering forces if they were not “usable in real operations”. The EU, he added, needed armed forces that were “agile, flexible, deployable and sustainable”.
That meant combining forces, focusing on quality and beefing up military spending.
In 2000 the EU average defence expenditure as a percentage of gross domestic product was 1.8 per cent, compared with the Pentagon's 3.1 per cent.
Lord Robertson, Nato secretary-general, said yesterday that the Europeans had to spend on quality, not quantity, particularly on research and development.