Daily Mail (Link) - James Slack and Matthew Hickley (April 3, 2009)
Britain is willing to provide all our Armed Forces to fight under the EU flag in future wars, a minister has revealed. Europe Minister Caroline Flint said that every operational unit of the British Army, the Royal Navy and RAF will be on offer as part of an EU 'force catalogue'. This would help form a 60,000-strong, joint EU military reaction force to police the world's trouble-spots.
Questioned by MPs this week, about Britain's commitment to the controversial plans, she said: 'We are prepared to provide all our forces that are suitable for operations within the EU level of action.' This suggested that the entire Army, Navy and RAF will be put at the EU's disposal - with the likely exception of Trident submarines carrying Britain's nuclear deterrent missiles. The Ministry of Defence insists that our forces would remain under UK control.
And Miss Flint immediately stressed that Britain was 'willing', but not committed, to offering all the forces - and would judge each EU-led operation on a case-bycase basis. 'They are national forces and will always remain so,' she said.
However, Tory MP James Clappison, a member of the European Scrutiny Committee, cautioned that her remarks may have exposed the Government's real attitude. 'Under Labour, Britain has an ever-deeper commitment to EU common defence, and many in the EU want a common army,' he said. 'Mission creep is in the DNA of the European Union.'
Opposition critics believe that the Government's rhetoric on European defence is shifting slowly, signalling growing enthusiasm for an EU Army. In October, Defence Secretary John Hutton gave strong backing to French plans for stronger EU military structures, and dismissed opponents of the divisive scheme as 'pathetic'. France has championed the Euro-Army agenda for years.
President Nicolas Sarkozy is pushing for a European military headquarters in Brussels, and more EU Rapid Reaction Forces, each made up of 1,500 troops from member states. And earlier this week, a European parliament report said that British and French military bases around the world, including those in the Falkland Islands, Gibraltar and Cyprus, should be put under joint EU control for future operations.
The MoD has played down the significance of the 60,000-strong intervention force. 'It is not a standing EU force of any kind and any commitment to an EU-led operation is voluntary,' a spokesman said. 'Commitment decisions are for national governments to make on a case by case basis. 'As you know, we have just one set of military forces and they don't belong to either Nato or the EU - they belong to us - and we choose the most appropriate organisation to do the job.'
But opponents of the EU reaction force fear that it will become a major stepping stone towards a huge standing EU army, controlled from Brussels, which would undermine Nato and freeze the U.S. out of Europe's security affairs.
EU forces have so far carried out only limited missions - including peacekeeping in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Congo. But its supporters hope that the new reaction force would also gradually allow the EU to eclipse Nato, or U.S.-led 'coalitions of the willing', in responding to international crises.
Caroline Flint, who oversees Britain's role in Brussels, faced embarrassment during the committee's hearings when she admitted that she had never read the Lisbon Treaty, the controversial document which is set to usher in radical reform of the EU. Conservative defence spokesman Mark Francois described her remarks as an 'incredible admission', after she told MPs that she had read 'some of it but not all of it'.