March 24, 2007
David Charter and Roger Boyes in Berlin
Angela Merkel got Europe’s 50th birthday weekend off to a controversial start yesterday when she said that the creation of a European army should be a key goal in its next 50 years.
The German Chancellor added hastily that she did not want to steer Europe towards a federal superstate. But her words ignited a simmering row about the relationship between Nato and the growing number of small EU military missions.
Mrs Merkel said that peace could not be taken for granted despite Western Europe’s longest period without internal conflict and suggested that a common army could help to bind countries closer together. Her suggestion was shot down immediately by Britain, which strongly opposes the creation of a rival organisation to Nato, although it does support the limited EU joint rapid reaction units sent to help out in crisis areas such as Aceh, hit by the 2005 tsunami.
Despite all the effort that Mrs Merkel has put into making sure that none of the EU leaders invited to Berlin this weekend is offended by the statement, the so-called Berlin declaration is certain to upset Turkey, one of the countries that most wants to join, by failing to mention its prospects.
The Chancellor compounded the offence in an interview yesterday in which she was asked how long Turkey would have enjoyed EU membership by 2057. “The question about full membership won’t seem so pressing in 50 years’ time because the relationship of neighbour states to the EU will be that much more attractive.
“That is going to create a larger zone of stability and friendly interdependencies,” she said, a reference to her preferred option of privileged partnership for Turkey.
In her interview with Bild, Mrs Merkel added: “In the EU itself, we have to come closer to creating a common European army. A European federal state won’t exist either in 50 years, we will keep the diversity of member states.”The Berlin declaration, seen by The Times, welcomes the contribution of former Iron Curtain countries to the EU but dodges the fundamental question of where Europe begins and ends, giving no encouragement to the process of reform in Turkey and other potential members such as Ukraine. Turkish leaders had already expressed disappointment at not being invited to the EU anniversary party in Berlin.
Mrs Merkel wants to use the declaration to give momentum for her goal of reviving the EU constitution project but dared not include the taboo word “constitution” in the final text for fear of upsetting the British, Czechs and others. Instead it concludes: “We are united in our aim of placing the European Union on a renewed common basis before the European Parliament elections in 2009.” This will keep alive her plan to publish a “road map” for a replacement constitution in June.
Mrs Merkel held last-minute telephone negotiations with Mirek Topolanek, the Czech Prime Minister, yesterday to secure agreement on the 2009 deadline, which falls during the first Czech presidency of the EU. The President, Vaclav Klaus, had earlier threatened to distance himself publicly from the declaration.
In another move designed to ease fears that the declaration will act like a treaty and bind individual member states, it will be signed only by the heads of the three European institutions, the Council, Commission and Parliament.