The powerful group of countries, Europe’s largest, also welcomed plans to hold a special Brussels summit next year to “confirm our ambitions for security and defence policy” in a move that poses a major headache for the Prime Minister as the EU climbs the domestic political agenda.
Known as the “Weimar group”, the five countries met in Paris on Thursday evening to launch a new offensive to create an EU military operations headquarters, after Britain used its veto last year to block similar proposals.
“We are convinced that the EU must set up, within a framework yet to-be-defined, true civilian-military structures to plan and conduct missions and operations,” the group of countries said in a communique. “We should show preparedness to hold available, train, deploy and sustain in theatre the necessary civilian and military means.”
Earlier this week, The Daily Telegraph revealed that Lady Ashton, the EU foreign minister, has signalled to Paris that she could help defeat Britain over the HQ if France could win other allies, an alliance that has now been sealed among the five countries.
France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Poland see the launch of EU civil-military missions, in Somalia, Mali, Libya, Kosovo, Georgia and Afghanistan, as a means to build momentum for a permanent EU command structure to oversee a growing number of operations.
Britain is isolated after it blocked moves, led by France, last year to create an EU Operational HQ (OHQ) because of concerns, said to be shared by the United States, that it would rival and divide Nato command.
“Rather than the rather sterile debate about costly new structures, most EU member states are now focused on developing European capabilities, making EU missions and operations more effective and ensuring our response to conflict situations reflects a genuinely comprehensive approach,” said a government spokesman
“We would continue to oppose the establishment of an EU operational headquarters.”
In September this year, a “futures” group of 11 countries, including the Weimar five, called for an end to Britain’s veto over defence policy to stop it blocking the OHQ, which is envisaged as a structure that “could eventually involve a European army”.
The proposals will be debated, with the support of Lady Ashton, the EU’s High Representative for foreign affairs, at a special summit in December 2013 ahead a push towards a new European constitution in the summer of 2014.
“This initiative should receive adequate political support at high level, in close cooperation with the High Representative, and result in increased European political integration. In defence matters as well, we need more Europe. We are committed to working together in this direction,” said the group’s statement.
Geoffrey Van Orden MEP, the Conservative spokesman on European defence and security policy, warned that demand to set up an OHQ is “central to the federalist aims of the Weimar group”.