Blair, Chirac to unveil defence initiative

Accompanied by four cabinet ministers, British Prime Minister Tony Blair travels to France on 4 February for the annual one-day Anglo-French summit with President Jacques Chirac.

The agenda of the meeting, held in the seaside resort of Le Touquet, includes a range of issues, from Iraq through an ambitious defence plan for Europe to asylum and education.

The joint defence proposals will aim to boost military capabilities and improve defence-related decision-making in the European Union. For this end, the leaders would propose the establishment of an inter-governmental defence procurement agency, notwithstanding that Britain continues to insist that armaments policy should remain the competence of the Member States. The plans also foresee the use of national operational headquarters for European defence missions. Furthermore, the two leaders will seek to agree on a "solidarity clause" to cover Member States threatened by a terrorist attack. The pending joint defence initiative is expected to be welcomed by most EU members, as an Anglo-French accord is seen as crucial to an all-European ESDP. The last joint defence initiative from the two countries came in St Malo in 1998 (see our LinksDossier

EU Security and Defence Policy).

On Iraq, Mr Blair - fresh from talks with US President George Bush - will seek to persuade Mr Chirac to consider backing a second UN resolution authorising a military strike. Mr Chirac has so far refused to rule out a French veto or abstention. The Le Touquet meeting takes place a day before US Secretary of State Colin Powell is expected to unveil proof that Iraq is hiding banned weapons, and in the shadow of last week's letter from eight European countries expressing support for the US stance on Iraq (see also

EURACTIV 31 January 2003).


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