Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

Geoff Hoon pleads for increase in EU's military capability

Agence Europe - 31 March 2004

In Strasbourg on Tuesday, the British Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, reaffirmed his country's support for the development of European defence in close co-operation with NATO, speaking to the European Parliament's committee on foreign affairs and security. Geoff Hoon believes that developing the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) will inevitably entail improving the EU's military capability and increasing military expenditure. When questioned by MEPs, Mr Hoon also expressed views on the situation in Iraq and Kosovo, justifying, in both cases, the presence of armed forced on the ground.

Mr Hoon started by saying that the United Kingdom's priority is to improve the European Union's military capabilities, and added that the EU should "make greater use" of new military technologies (he cited the case of Iraq, where so-called "intelligent" weapons were used "85%"). Referring to the gulf dividing the EU from the US, Mr Hoon stressed that the EU should plug its gaps in terms of military capability via, amongst other things, the future European Armament Agency (which should be operational this year). The EU should develop rapid reaction forces, said Mr Hoon, reiterating the Franco-British position (supported by Germany) of creating "armed European military groups" which "would not tread on the toes of the NATO Rapid Reaction force" (EUROPE of 14 February). "What happened in Kosovo shows that we must be able to resolve crises quickly", he said, recognising that this requires an ability to take political decisions quickly to deploy forces on the ground, which "today's time-scales [for decision-making] do not permit".

During the debate, British Conservative Geoffrey van Orden said that he was "surprised" by Mr Hoon's enthusiasm. "I could understand it if it led to an increase in the ESDP budget, but that is not the case", he noted. "Yes, we are enthusiastic", said Mr Hoon: "with the Labour government, military expenditure has continued to increase. This was not the case under the Conservatives". Haranguing the British Minister, the Greek Efstratios Korakas (GUE/NGL) asked if the terrorist threat was "a sufficient reason" for "considerably" increasing military expenditure, or whether it was really "a pretext for imposing policies of aggression". Of course other options than military ones should be borne in mind, but we must be "realistic", said Mr Hoon, who believes that improving the EU's military capabilities will entail increasing expenditure, but also a better use of existing resources. German Social Democrat Klaus Hansch asked for a clarification of the British position on the creation of a "European headquarters". On this, Mr Hoon got behind the well-known British position. "We hope to avoid any duplication of what we already have under NATO", he replied. In case of a crisis, without direct NATO involvement, Mr Hoon defended European intervention as per the Berlin+ agreements (EU recourse to Alliance means), or the idea of a "multi-nationalised" national headquarters, as was the case for the Artemis operation in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

MEPs also expressed concern on the situation in Kosovo (underlining the urgency of a political solution for the province), and the post-war management of Iraq. "The policy of the British and the Americans in Iraq is a policy of occupation", said Mr Korakas, asking: "do you not think you ought to withdraw?". The security situation in Iraq is "very difficult", Mr Hoon acknowledged, but added that he feels that the Iraqi people are "ready to help the coalition". He also acknowledged the need for greater reflection on post-war situations, and the rapid deployment of not only troops, but also officials on the ground. "Yes, we are an occupying force in Iraq. After 1 June, this will change, but it would be irresponsible to withdraw now", he said, adding: "we will do it when all the conditions have been met".

Should the SFOR (NATO mission) mandate in Kosovo be extended, asked Austrian Christian Democrat Ursula Stenzel. Why not hold a UN Conference on the "partition" of Kosovo, asked British Conservative Charles Tannock. The same is true of Kosovo, where "once again, the solution is not simply to withdraw", "now that we are there, we can see, more and more, that we need to protection the Serbian minorities", explained Mr Hoon, who rejected the idea of a "partition" of Kosovo. "I do not think that things are so easy", he declared, concluding that political progress in Kosovo over the last few years "would be compromised if we do not preserve ethnic plurality" in the province.