Kohl aide backs Franco-German plan to share big defence decisions

 

A TOP aide to the German Chancellor, Dr Helmut Kohl, yesterday backed a plan for Germany and France to share major defence decisions, including those involving the use of nuclear weapons.

Mr Karl Lamers, the spokesman on European Affairs for the governing Christian Democratic Union (CDU), told the German news agency DPA that such a partnership could form the basis of a European pillar within the Atlantic alliance.

"Nobody can dispute that Franco-German co-operation is just as necessary for the development of a European defence component as it is for the process of European integration itself. And nobody can dispute that European defence is a pillar of the alliance and thus complements the Atlantic defence system," he said.

Mr Lamers insisted there was nothing secret about an agreement on a common defence strategy agreed by France and Germany in December but not made public until last week when it was leaked to the French daily Le Monde.

Le Monde of January 25th revealed the contents of the document signed by Dr Kohl and Mr Chirac in Nuremberg last December 9th. The text foresees an overlapping role for the French and German armies within NATO and the EU. It also notes that France and Germany are prepared to begin "a dialogue on the role of nuclear deterrence in the context of a European defence policy".

France's independent nuclear deterrent has been the mainstay of French defence policy since the force de frappe was deployed under Gen de Gaulle in the 1960s. President Chirac's advisers reportedly feared that old-guard Gaullists would oppose the text's Atlantist tone and its willingness to discuss nuclear policy.

The goal of the "common strategic concept" endorsed by Messers Kohl and Chirac is to establish "concerted defence" for France and Germany. The text was kept secret because the German and French leaders wanted to brief their respective parliaments first.

The parliamentarians met in Aix-la-Chapelle from January 24th to 26th, where they discussed it in detail. The document calls on both leaders to strengthen defence industry cooperation and says the EU must assume responsibility for a common defence policy.

French and German security interests have become "indissociable", the document says. "On the basis of their geographic situation, their demographic and economic weight and their commitment to the construction of Europe, France and Germany are, as members of the European Union, of the Atlantic Alliance and the WEU, at the centre of a network of solidarity."

Mr Lamers insisted that the 12-page agreement was not an attempt to divide NATO. And he played down the importance of the nuclear element, saying that there was no question of Germany attempting to get its finger near the nuclear button.

"It's quite clear that we don't want that and can't have it," he said. But, he added, it was in Germany's interest to gain some influence over when and where nuclear weapons should be used.

Post-war Germany has never held nuclear weapons and has allowed the United States to site warheads on its soil as part of its membership of NATO. France's possession of nuclear weapons has traditionally given it an enhanced position over Germany in discussions of foreign policy and defence positions. Following the outcry over French nuclear testing in 1995, Paris promised to consult with its allies about future use of the nuclear deterrent.

French commentators saw the "strategic concept" as a further sign that France and Germany are reaffirming their role as the "motor" of Europe. French and German police last week cooperated in raids on Islamic fundamentalists.

Reuter adds: The French government agreed under left-wing opposition pressure yesterday to an emergency debate on the Franco-German joint defence concept after protests that the document had been leaked to everyone except parliament.

There were angry scenes in the National Assembly when the Defence Minister, Mr Charles Millon, acknowledged the document had been sent only to the speaker and the heads of the defence and foreign affairs committees.

The leak embarrassed the government, since President Chirac had promised that members of parliament would receive the document and NATO and European Union partners would be briefed on it before it was made public.

The left-wing former defence minister, Mr Jean-Pierre Chevenement, accused the government of selling out to Germany and NATO in a secret deal struck behind parliament's back.

The Socialist floor leader, Mr Laurent Fabius, a former prime minister, said it was disgraceful that the government should expect parliament to debate the future of national service after the abolition of conscription while withholding the document.