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Strengthening Europe's voice in the world

Strengthening Europe's voice in the world

The German government wants to strengthen the European Union's common foreign and security policy. In an interview published in the weekly newspaper DIE ZEIT Chancellor Schröder pleaded in favor of promoting European integration in this area as well in order to give it a voice that will be heard for peaceful development in the world. Speaking in Berlin on March 27, Schröder noted that a larger military budget would not be necessary for the time being in connection with the reform currently being carried out in the armed forces.

Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has once again emphasized the need to advance the process of developing a common European foreign and security policy. In an interview published in the weekly newspaper DIE ZEIT on March 27 he said there was need to work towards a situation in which Europe will be able to exert its influence. Schröder noted that it went without saying that an accelerated development of the common foreign and security policy (CFSP) would be carried out within the NATO framework and not be directed against NATO. "The aim is to develop the much-talked-about 'European pillar' and our military capabilities so that we will be more capable of taking action," Schröder remarked.

He noted that the lack of agreement seen in connection with the Iraq crisis is indicative of the need to achieve greater unity. European integration has always been a process and given the differences that exist in national traditions it is much more difficult to reach agreement on the foreign and security policy areas than, say, on a common market and a common currency. The difficulties being faced with regard to achieving a common foreign policy need to be weighed against the risk of missing out on the political opportunity to create a genuinely united Europe.

In a statement made in Erlangen a day earlier Schröder called for making Europe's voice in the world stronger and more stable. "We need to continue with the difficult task of integrating Europe and giving an integrated Europe a real voice for peaceful development in the world." The political objective is to create prospects for the future that will help prevent wars. Prospects of this kind can only be created if they are not limited to one's own country, Schröder indicated.

In his view, the process of enlargement needs to be continued, even though things are going to be more difficult with twenty-five countries than they were with fifteen. "With the enlargement of the European Union we have a unique opportunity to make Europe a place of lasting peace and prosperity for its people. We must not allow this opportunity to be taken away from us by anything or anyone," Schröder noted.

Increased cooperation in defense matters

In a statement made on the sidelines of the EU spring summit held in Brussels on March 20 and 21 Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt proposed that his country, together with Germany and France, promote development of a common defense policy. The heads of state and government of Belgium, Germany, France and Luxembourg are scheduled to meet in Brussels at the end of April to discuss ways and means of strengthening their cooperation in defense matters. The objective is to move forward in the process of developing a common defense policy.

Earlier this year Germany and France jointly submitted proposals to the European Convention in this connection. Chancellor Schröder noted that promoting these ideas was "the right thing to do" given Europe's experience in the past, adding that the initiative is of course open to anyone else who wants to join in. He stressed that the development of a common European defense policy would also result in a strengthening of NATO.

Schröder called to mind the fact that a decision had been taken at the Nice European Council permitting and encouraging cooperation among countries who want to move ahead with integration. It is important to note that these initiatives are required to be open to others. Franco-German interaction will continue to be a factor of fundamental importance for the further process of integration.

First EU rapid reaction force deployed

The international situation is making it increasingly necessary to improve European rapid reaction capabilities. Forces and equipment planning need to be harmonized, coordinated, and integrated. Over the long term an integrated European force is to be developed in agreement with NATO. The purpose is to create a strong Europe for a strong transatlantic community. At its spring summit in Brussels on March 20 and 21 the EU reiterated its resolve to strengthen its ability to act in the context of a common foreign and security policy (CFSP) as well as a European security and defense policy (ESDP).

As of March 31 the EU will provide a security presence in Macedonia with the support of NATO. Germany will be involved in the mission, parliamentary approval having been given on March 20. Foreign Minister Fischer called this a "forward-looking decision".

Fighting terrorism

With a view to the fight against terrorism Schröder said there is a need for a renewed effort on the part of the West and that the Europeans could play a central role in that context. He noted that there is a need to continue what began as a "seedling" in Johannesburg and that the North-South Dialogue needs to be taken seriously, adding that the Middle East and Africa are close to Europe geographically. Schröder remarked that in saying this he was also expressing criticism of the European record in this regard.

Equipping and financing the armed forces

According to Schröder the presence of some parts of Europe on the UN Security Council means that "we will need to draw our conclusions from this". Those who, while satisfying alliance obligations, claim the right to be able to make distinctions or to say no to war, as in the case of Iraq, need to be able to undertake independent action, Schröder noted. As such, there will be a need to discuss the equipping and financing of the armed forces in the future.

This month parliament approved the defense budget for 2003. A total of 24.4 billion euros will be available for the armed forces. In its coalition agreement the government stressed that it would continue and, where necessary, systematically expand its comprehensive reform of the armed forces.

In a newspaper interview published on March 27 Defense Minister Peter Struck said that by increasing overall cost-effectiveness and lowering operational costs it would be possible to save the money needed to convert the armed forces into a rapid-reaction force. "There will be no reductions in the defense budget. Everything we manage to save will be used for new investments," Struck indicated. "The planned annual budget volume of 24.4 billion euros will remain until 2006."

Chancellor Schröder supports the restructuring of the armed forces within the established budget framework. Speaking to journalists after a cabinet meeting on March 26, Schröder commented that in his view these resources will be sufficient to cover projected needs. There is of course an ongoing discussion as to whether or not the armed forces should focus on new tasks. "If this determination should be made then we will need to have a debate on this matter," Schröder said, adding that the armed forces reform will have to be completed prior to anything else.

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