Solana to become head of WEU

 

The EU's new foreign and security policy chief, the former NATO secretary-general, Mr Javier Solana, is also to be asked to take over as head of the Western European Union, The Irish Times has learned.

Diplomatic sources say the forthcoming ministerial meeting of the WEU on November 23rd will set the seal on an agreement reached between capitals to allow the "double-hatting" of Mr Solana as an important step in the rationalisation of the EU's emerging peacekeeping dimension following the Cologne summit.

Mr Solana, whose post as EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy, was created by the Amsterdam Treaty, will take over in the WEU from Portugal's Mr Jose Cutiliero, who is retiring.

The decision will not be opposed by the EU's neutrals, although all have admitted to some uneasiness about the issue, regarding it as unnecessary and potentially provocative.

The Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, told reporters recently at the Tampere summit in Finland that although he was not keen he was not prepared to make an issue of it. Ireland is an observer at the WEU.

Irish officials emphasise that the terms of the appointment will effectively ring-fence Mr Solana's role to the area of WEU capabilities in "Petersberg tasks" - i.e., peacekeeping, humanitarian and crisis management areas.

He will not be involved in any discussions or planning related to the WEU's Article 5 mutual defence guarantee, a largely redundant aspect but one which touches directly on neutrality.

The WEU, the organisational bridge between the EU and NATO, is undertaking an audit of what assets it can pass to the EU as the latter expands its Petersberg capabilities. By the time the EU has asset-stripped the WEU the latter will be largely moribund.

Within the EU, discussions to organise the developing foreign and security role continue, with defence ministers arriving in Brussels on Monday to join their foreign counterparts at the General Affairs Council.

The meeting has been called to advance the Cologne discussions and prepare for the Helsinki summit next month, which is likely to establish a new permanent committee of CFSP ambassadors in Brussels as well as a military committee of officials and officers to co-ordinate Petersberg activities and planning.