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Democrat July-August 2011 (Number 124)

Proposal for an EU Military control centre

British foreign minister William Hague on Monday (18 July) said Britain would "never" agree to the idea of a single EU military headquarters to replace the command centres scattered around five EU Member States.

"I have made very clear that the United Kingdom will not agree to a permanent operational HQ. We will not agree to it now and we will not agree to it in the future. That is a red line," Hague told reporters after a meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels.

He argued that a permanent headquarters would duplicate Nato structures and would be a "waste of money".

Speaking at a parallel press conference, EU President Ashton said that the British rebuke "did not come as a surprise to me. This is the same position as the previous British government," she explained, in reference to the Labour cabinet which put her forward to become EU's first foreign affairs and security policy chief.

Initially a French pet project, the idea of establishing a single operational headquarters was written into the Ashton report as part of "different options" being explored by "most member states" on how to make the bloc's common and foreign security policy more effective.

"The argument goes like this: each time you produce a headquarters in a different country and finish the mission, maybe you lose the expertise of that project," she said.

But her report also refers to the "alternative view" pushed forward by the British, saying that member state assets have to be used effectively and having an operational headquarters like the one in Northwood for the EU naval anti-piracy mission "should not be changed".

Ashton argued it was important to "put all options on the table, even if we knew that member states are going to reject them."

Asked if she will now bin the plan of having a single command structure, Ashton said: "We continue to explore what we might be able to do, but I am conscious you can't do much when unanimity of member states is required."

She pointed however to the opening of the EU external action service's own situation room on Monday, as a good example of "pooling resources and offering 24/7 monitoring" to enable the bloc with a quicker response to crises around the world. "And all this at no extra costs for the EU budget."

Commenting on the "excellent" proposal, French minister Alain Juppe said it was a pity the British government did not show more flexibility.

"A very large majority was in favour of the proposal of an EU military headquarters, pushed by the "Weimar countries," he said, in reference to Poland, France and Germany.

The single headquarters system would replace the current command structure which sees the EU military missions run out of national centres in Britain, France, Germany, Greece and Italy.

(Valentina Pop—EUObserver 19.7.11)