A Political View of Common European Defence

por Alejandro Muñoz-Alonso, 25 de enero de 2000

Lecture, CESEDEN
I. The precedents of common European defence

For some months now we have been hearing people insist that the 'time for European defence' has arrived, and at times it is even given to understand that this is the first time that the question of defence has been addressed within that magnum enterprise that is conventionally known as the 'process of European construction'. It is undoubtedly true that in the community environment of what is now the European Union the last few decades have been devoid of any ideas relating to defence, to such an extent in fact that there has been talk of the European enterprise being 'demilitarised' or even 'pacifist' in nature. There is doubtless an easy explanation for this: first the European Communities, and later the European Union, have not had to worry themselves with the issue of collective defence, because since the signing of the Treaty of Washington in 1949, this has been the area of competence and the main function of the Atlantic Alliance. Throughout the Cold War, this fully differentiated organisation, with its transatlantic dimension, has successfully dealt with Western Europe's defence and security needs.

However, the absence of the defence issue within a political project as ambitious as the European Union is something of an anomaly. It is an historic constant that any political entity wishing to describe itself as such needs some defensive dimension. One does not exist politically without an autonomous capacity to defend oneself, even when there is no imminent threat on the horizon. It is not possible to be a major player on the international stage without the military backing required to make one's positions credible and respected. When Stalin cynically asked how many divisions the Pope had at his disposal, he was brazenly pointing to what is simply the crude reality of diplomacy and international relations. It is not enough to attempt to maintain a set of values, and even less to ensure a series of legitimate interests, if one lacks the necessary resources or strength to first dissuade the power threatening, ignoring or violating such interests, and later to repel or suppress it if the need arises. There is always the probability of having to eventually put one's own cards on the table and respond to the threat, like Cardinal Cisneros who on one memorable occasion had to 'show his powers'.

But the very history of the process of European construction, and most especially its early stages, explains why it has taken half a century for the question of common European defence to be looked at seriously. Consequently, we should look back at those early days, since they are the key to an understanding of the absence of defence in the European Union's concerns and activities to date. Furthermore, useful lessons may be learned from the events unfolding at that time, with a view to preventing errors and delays now and in the future.

As pointed out by Leo Tindemans in the 'Report on the progressive establishment of a common defence policy in the European Union', submitted to the European Parliament's Commission for Foreign Affairs, Security and Defence Policy in April 1998, 'the idea of European defence has been around since the very beginning of European construction'. He points to the Treaty of Dunkirk, signed in 1947 by Great Britain and France, as the first milestone in this process. The Second World War had just finished and Germany had been defeated, but the western democracies feared that the recovery of the vanquished nation might once more make it a threat to European stability and peace if it rearmed itself. The United States, concerned about the increasing Soviet threat, looked upon such a possibility in a kinder light. For that reason, and although it might now seem rather surprising, that Treaty was directed against Germany. A year later, in 1948, the two States that had signed the Treaty of Dunkirk proposed to the three Benelux countries that a defence organisation be set up, no longer against Germany but against all aggression. This was the origin of the Treaty of Brussels, signed on 17th March 1948. Significantly, this occurred just a week after the tragic death of the Czechoslovakian leader Jan Masaryk, who had brought attention to the expansionist intent of Soviet imperialism. The Treaty, signed for a period of fifty years, set up 'a mechanism for legitimate collective defence', in addition to establishing a framework for economic, social and cultural collaboration. Considered to be the milestone that founded the process of European union, in military matters the Treaty included a clause establishing automatic assistance to any signatory State that might be attacked, in accordance with the principle of legitimate collective defence embodied in the United Nations Charter. It even established an embryo military organisation, made up of a defence committee, a committee of heads of General Staff and an armaments committee.

The Atlantic Alliance was founded in 1949 through the Treaty of Washington, which was clearly inspired by the Treaty of Brussels, and left that first strictly and exclusively European defence organisation practically devoid of content. Five years later, in 1954, a series of protocols was signed in Paris that modified the Brussels Treaty and gave rise to the Western European Union, which now included the Federal Republic of Germany and Italy. As we all know, the WEU was for many years the only Western European organisation with any degree of competence in relation to defence. It is thought that the fundamental objective of the Paris agreements was to allow Germany to rearm itself and to integrate it into the West's security system, an essential goal given the dimension of the Soviet threat at that time. It is equally common knowledge, however, that once that objective had been met, the WEU vegetated for many years. From 1984 onwards, and especially during the 1990's, attempts were made to revitalise the organisation. Finally, the decision was taken to integrate it into the European Union, a task that it is expected will culminate this year.

However, the question of European defence had been posed within the as yet germinal process of European unity even before the WEU was formally created. As pointed out by André Fontaine, at that time many people were asking themselves whether European unity would not already be almost a reality when, after coal and steel, Europe's soldiers were a resource common to all. This was indeed the objective of the Pleven Plan, named after the French minister who proposed the idea, which was submitted to the French National Assembly on 24th October 1949. The main lines of the Plan were as follows: the creation of a common army, linked to Europe's political institutions and directed by a European Defence Minister reporting to a European Assembly; a common defence budget and integration of the contingents provided by the member States to the greatest possible extent, with foreign forces kept outside the scope of the project. Negotiation of this Plan was subordinate to approval of the European Coal and Steel Community Treaty, and it was stressed that Germany would remain outside the Atlantic Alliance that was then taking its first steps.

From the very start the Pleven Plan ran up against opposition from the nationalists, including the Gaullists, and the communists, in spite of which it was approved in principle by the National Assembly (343 votes against 225). Nevertheless, the paragraph referring to the possibility of reconstituting the German army and General Staff was removed. A year and a half later, the treaty that constituted the 'European Defence Community' was drawn up on the basis of the aforementioned Plan. The treaty was signed in Paris on 27th May 1952, and was ratified by all the signatory countries except France. Indeed, the supranational nature of the treaty and the question of German rearmament, opposed still by wide sectors of the French social and political scene, finally brought the project to an end, and it was rejected by the National Assembly on 30th August 1954.

As from the rejection of the European Defence Community - the most important failure in the history of the common defence of Europe - the 'demilitarisation' of European construction to which we referred at the beginning became effective. The Atlantic Alliance became the only organisation that would undertake functions relating to the defence of Western Europe throughout the Cold War. This was so despite the fact that not all the countries that would later become members of the European Union were part of this alliance, and that asymmetry between the different organisations was the rule, since not all the members of the Alliance were members of the European Union, and vice versa.

The transatlantic link thus became the key factor in European defence, this meaning in practice that Western Europe placed its defence in the hands of its North American ally, whose troops installed in Europe became the guarantors of collective defence and security. This explains why, during the Cold War, transatlantic relations were dominated by the priority issue of collective defence and by the corresponding involvement of the United States in European security. But these relations developed on a totally different plane from the one on which European construction was being undertaken, step by step and piece by piece. This latter process concerned itself only with economic issues, while defence was the key factor in relations between Europe and the United States.

II. Defence in the European Union

The priority given to economic issues in developing the process of European construction is reflected even in the official name of the new Europe, which for many years was, as we all know, the European Economic Community. Not only were concerns relating to defence relegated to a secondary level of importance, this was also true of strictly political aspects, which would inevitably have to be faced sooner or later in a project of this type. The expression Political Union took a long time to appear, and was only accepted officially in the conclusions of the extraordinary meeting of the European Council held in Dublin in April 1990. If nobody was talking of political union, it was even less likely that there would be talk of common defence.

For its part, the idea of a Foreign Common and Security Policy was not institutionalised as the 'second pillar' of the European process until the Maastricht Treaty in 1992. There was little chance of talk of common defence if the need for a common foreign policy had not yet been dealt with. Such a policy would mean that Europe might, at least faced with certain events and situations, make itself heard with a single voice and, therefore, take up a single position that would eventually have to be backed by a military instrument. Despite these decidedly unpropitious precedents, the idea of common defence reappears timidly as from the mid eighties, now not only in the theses of specialists and in certain non-governmental documents, but also in certain important Community texts. Thus, in the Single Act of 1986, that designed what was to become the Single European Market, the prevailing preoccupation with economic matters did not prevent the document from stating that 'closer cooperation in questions relating to European security would make an essential contribution to the development of a European identity in the area of foreign policy'. There is as yet no talk of defence, but foreign policy is mentioned, and this is a great novelty. A WEU document, the so-called 'Platform concerning the Interests of European Security' (27th October, 1987) launched the concept of the 'European defence identity', stating in no uncertain terms that 'the construction of an integrated Europe will remain incomplete until such time as it include security and defence'. As from this moment a multitude of texts begin to appear accepting the expression European Defence Identity or Security and Defence, and the texts of the Atlantic Alliance also assume the concept, as we shall see below.

One of the sections of the Maastricht Treaty, the 5th, contains provisions relating to Foreign Common and Security Policy, and it is established that its primary objective (article J.1) shall be 'the defence of common values, of fundamental interests and of the independence of the Union'. It is true that there is no explanation of how this defence might be implemented, but it is important to underline the fact that there is recognition of the essential link between defence and foreign policy. Another of the objectives mapped out is 'peace-keeping and the strengthening of international security, in compliance with the principles of the United Nations Charter, the principles of the Final Helsinki Act and the objectives of the Paris Charter'. The Treaty also specifies (article J.4) that 'the policy regarding foreign affairs and common security shall cover all questions relating to the security of the European Union, including the future definition of a common defence policy, which might in time lead to common defence'. For the first time the European Union recognises questions relating to defence as being its own concern, albeit for the time being as a mere possibility, making a distinction between a common defence policy, which it sees as being a task for some non-defined date in the future, and common defence, the possibility of which is conditioned to eventual future decisions.

As we have already seen, and in accordance with the Maastricht Treaty itself, the Union requested the WEU - which, despite its being described as 'forming an integral part of development of the European Union', continued to be a completely different organisation - 'to draw up and implement the decisions and actions of the Union with repercussions in the area of defence'. However, as the Dutchman van Eekelen points out, 'paradoxically, the only actions in which the WEU was involved (the embargo and corresponding actions in the Gulf, the Adriatic and the Danube, the policing factor in the European Union's administration in Mostar and police assistance in Albania) had little to do with defence in the strictest sense and in many cases were carried out by non-military personnel. One way or another, since Maastricht the so-called 'second pillar' has been in existence, although for the time being it is largely lacking in any real content.

The defence question appears in a more explicit and detailed manner in the contents of the Community's new Treaty of Amsterdam, which came into force on 1st May 1999. This introduces the concept of the 'progressive definition of a common defence policy', instead of the more vague 'future definition' that appeared in the Maastricht Treaty. There is a reference also to the case of those Member States 'who consider that their common defence is implemented within NATO', and to the need to make the obligations deriving from the two organisational frameworks, the European Union and the Atlantic Alliance, compatible. There is a reference to cooperation in the armaments sector, and the paragraph of the Maastricht Treaty that assigned to the WEU the drawing up and implementation of decisions and actions of the Union with repercussions in the area of defence is repeated. The so-called 'Petersberg missions' are included among the new areas of competence of the Union, and it is established that 'the questions referred to in the present article [J.7] shall include humanitarian and rescue missions, peace-keeping missions and missions involving the intervention of combat forces for the management of crisis situations, including those aimed at restoring peace'.

We shall not dwell here on analysis of the institutional and procedural mechanisms applied within the area of FCSP (Foreign Common and Security Policy), which will also be applicable to defence-related issues established in the Amsterdam Treaty. What should be underlined is that for the first time in its history the European Union now has a clear standard concerning defence, although activation thereof is still subordinate to the individual intent of the Member States. When the Treaty was signed, it did not seem likely that this intent would ever meet with any specific definition, but, as we shall see below, throughout 1999 a profile has been unexpectedly drawn as a result especially of what are now known as the 'lessons of Kosovo'. However, let us leave aside the texts and refer to the events that occurred throughout the nineties and which were to make the concept of common European defence a pressing issue even before the acceleration that we witnessed in 1999.

In the context first of the Gulf War, and later in the Balkans, the European Union not only demonstrated its incapacity to design and apply a common foreign policy, but also its defensive insufficiencies as regards logistics and equipment, precisely in relation to the new missions involved in a new strategic environment. The participation of the member countries in the Bosnia conflict, under the flag of the United Nations, underlined these limitations. Srebrenica has become a symbol of European impotence, with the continent forced to passively witness the brutal massacre of the civil population without being able to do anything to prevent it or to evacuate the victims of the policy of ethnic cleansing. I clearly remember that when, in the corresponding Commission of the Spanish Parliament, the then minister of Foreign Affairs, Javier Solana, was asked how such a thing could have occurred, his reply was that none of the European countries present in the area had the means of transport required to evacuate the civil population, and especially helicopters. 'Only the North Americans have those', he concluded. The European insufficiencies were thus made patently obvious. For that reason it might be said that the path taken since by Europe towards common defence has been trodden to the cry of 'Remember Srebrenica!' It was obvious that Europe could not allow such a shameful occurrence, such a massacre, ever to be repeated. Having said this, the horror of ethnic cleansing was unfortunately repeated in Kosovo, with its aftermath of death and suffering.

Bosnia, and later Kosovo, thus became the misshapen mirror that reflected European security and defence. But these were not the only focal points of instability on our continent, which from the Caucasus to the Baltic, and obviously to the Balkans, presented a number of potential areas of friction. This could only lead to the conclusion that Europe was less secure and stable during the nineties than it had been previously. The change from the stable and foreseeable world of major blocks to the new scheme of things that followed the fall of the Berlin wall had done away with the 'great threat', but had led to the emergence of a series of risks and latent crises that might flare up at any moment. This necessarily led to the need to revise the axiom that had been accepted almost without discussion when the Cold War ended, according to which the time had come to switch the emphasis from defence to security. Some even saw this security as being demilitarised, claiming that now was the time to cash in on the 'dividends of peace'. However, the events referred to above, that unfolded during the nineties, necessarily led to the conclusion that in order to better guarantee security it was essential not to forget the concept of defence or relegate it. In other words, there was a need for some type of military apparatus making it possible not only to keep peace but also to impose it if necessary.

For Europe this was a question that affected its very identity. With the Euro now set up as its single currency, it was increasingly obvious that the European Union was becoming one of the planet's major economic powers. However, without a defence system of its own, without some European military apparatus, it would never achieve the equivalent weight required on the international scene. Furthermore, the economic dimension would never be developed to its fullest potential without an equivalent political dimension, especially in the form of a common foreign policy, and this in turn would be inconceivable without military backing. This required a common defence policy, and sooner or later would require common defence. Anything else would be resigning oneself to Europe's becoming what Germany had been described as before reunification: 'an economic giant and a political dwarf'.

The transformations that have occurred in the Atlantic Alliance, and that have led to talk of 'a new NATO', have also undoubtedly helped to achieve progress in configuring the Europe of defence. On the other hand, they have also given rise to the problem of relations between the 'European pillar' and the Alliance, a problem that is still to be fully resolved. We refer especially to the introduction in the Alliance's terminology of the concept of 'the European security and defence identity', first during the Rome 'summit' in November 1991, subsequently, and in a more complete fashion, in Berlin in July 1996, and finally at the major 'summit' held in Washington in April 1999 and commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the Alliance.

But the old European States, clinging to centuries-old habits of full sovereignty over their respective foreign policies and military apparatus, were reluctant to take the decisive step towards common defence. Their different diplomatic traditions made it very difficult for common policies to be adopted, as was demonstrated in the case of the ex Yugoslavia. The States that had ceded a symbol as emblematic of their sovereignty as their currencies in order to move towards unity, were reluctant to take the same step with the symbol of defence, their respective military instruments. In short, this was a problem of political will that appeared not to have any solution.

III. The time for European defence

The traditional European reluctance to accept common defence changed spectacularly as from the meeting between President Chirac and Prime Minister Blair, held in Saint Malo in December 1998. The meeting was important both because of what was said and because of who said it. They spoke of sufficient capacities and of autonomy in the defence area, and expressed the will to move from the framework of rhetoric within which the question of common European defence had been developed until that time to one of facts and specific commitments. The time had come to put an end to the joke circulating in certain corridors, that had it that 'when the Pentagon pushes a button a missile is launched, but when the Europeans push a button what comes out is a communiqué'. And it was important that this new attitude should come from two such special countries: Great Britain, which had so obviously kept itself in the wings in relation to the European process, and France, whose strict understanding of sovereignty in this field had brought the European Defence Project to the ground in 1954. Furthermore, following the long period of Gaullism, this understanding had become a symbol of national identity. It should also be remembered that these two countries are the only nuclear powers in Western Europe and the two only permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. They were, therefore, not lacking in qualifications for the role of initiators of the process of common defence.

But it was at the European Council meeting held in Cologne in June 1999 that the European Union as such took the first real steps in the field of common defence. This meeting designed the institutional framework that will allow the Union to undertake the Petersberg missions, and that will be made up of a Policy and Security Committee (PSC), a Military Committee including the Chiefs of Staff or their representatives and a General Staff. The structure, functions and legal framework governing these new bodies will be defined during the first half of the year 2000, under the Portuguese presidency. From March onwards, interim organisations will undertake these functions, pending the formal constitution of those foreseen in Cologne. It is also established that the Council for General Affairs - made up of the different Ministers of Foreign Affairs - will hold extended meetings, which will also be attended by the Ministers of Defence whenever issues relating to defence policy or common European defence are on the agenda. This is the first time that any institutional relevance has been given to the Ministers of Defence by the European Union. Since the failure of the European Defence Community in 1954, they had played no part in the European process. It is a limited step, inasmuch as the Ministers of Defence are only to be invited as something akin to special guests at venues belonging to the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, but at the same time it is a significant step that expresses the changing climate within the European Union. The first meeting of the Council for General Affairs with this new format, in other words including the Ministers of Defence, was held on 15th November last.

It may be stated that as from Cologne there has been an appreciable speeding up of awareness regarding common European defence. Proof of the above is the fact, underlined by Rafael Bardají, that between July and December 1999 there were no fewer than 23 initiatives of different types and natures - documents, meetings, speeches and conferences - both unilateral, bilateral and multilateral, contributing to a varying extent to the issue of common European defence. Especially outstanding among these initiatives was President Chirac's Action Plan, which deals with the question from the traditional French viewpoint and seeks instruments for decision-making and action by the European Union separately from NATO and the continent's great North American ally.

It was in December 1999, however, at the 'summit' or European Council meeting in Helsinki, that the major issue of common European defence was finally addressed in detail and with commitment. This made it possible to talk of a fully mature political will regarding reflection and decision-making in relation to common defence, something that had previously been lacking in this field. On the basis of the orientations established in Cologne - where the question had already been dealt with, albeit much more vaguely - the decision was taken to create a European Rapid Reaction Force made up of between 50,000 and 60,000 troops, deployable within sixty days and capable of remaining deployed for at least a year and of 'exercising the entire range of Petersberg missions'. In an appendix to the conclusions of the Presidency the important question of the 'military capacities' required for these missions is addressed. This appendix states that 'the most efficient development of the European military capacity will be achieved on the basis of the existing national, binational and multinational capacities, which will be brought together for crisis management operations directed by the Union and carried out with or without the intervention of the resources and capacities of NATO'. The document even goes a step further, establishing that 'the member States have also decided to quickly establish objectives in relation to their collective capacities in the areas of control, intelligence and strategic transport', underling the following priority areas in which - it is stated - progress has already been made by certain member States:
  • The development and coordination of military supervision and early warning resources.
  • Opening up of the general joint installations already in existence to officers from other member States.
  • Reinforcement of the rapid reaction capacities of the multinational European forces already in existence.
  • Preparations for the creation of a European Air Transport Command.
  • Increasing the number of troops that may rapidly be deployed.
  • Increasing the strategic capacity for maritime troop transport and evacuation.
Naturally, the Helsinki 'summit' could not but address the question of the defence industry, and the aforementioned appendix states that 'the member States have witnessed with satisfaction the recent progress made in the restructuring of the European defence industries, this constituting an important step forward and a contribution to the strengthening of the industrial and technological basis of European defence'.

In the wake of Helsinki, the institutional apparatus of common European defence and the objectives and schedules have been perfectly designed with an accuracy and level of detail nobody could have foreseen just a few months ago. It had always been assumed that the presidency of Finland, a traditionally neutral country, was not the most propitious for the promotion of common European defence. This demonstrates the extent to which the events of last year, and especially what are now known as the 'lessons of Kosovo', have served as a catalyst for the process under analysis here. Obstacles traditionally considered to be almost unsurpassable have in fact been overcome.

IV. The convergence of defence policies: the idea of 'military convergence'

But institutions, procedures, objectives and schedules are of little use if one does not move within a framework of reality, and unless one is aware of the situation of the European Union in the field of defence and the shortcomings are audited, with a view to quickly applying remedies. We have already seen that Helsinki has meant an initial approximation in this respect, but it would not be a bad thing to delve a little deeper. Overall, the European Union member States spend on defence approximately two thirds of the United States budget in this area. Europe spends less and it spends it less effectively, because a large part of the European budgets goes on personnel. This is because there are almost two million military personnel in Europe, while the United States has 25 percent fewer. Furthermore, of all the European military personnel only a very small part, around 2%, could actually be used for deployment operations. Added to this is the fact that Europe's air and naval deployment capacities are scarce, insufficient for important combined operations in the opinion of the experts. According to one of these experts, François Heisbourg, this European insufficiency is the result of a number of factors, among which the following might be mentioned: the duplication of military resources in the different member States; the existence of different models, some based on obligatory military service and others on professional personnel; the 'Balkanisation' of supply and demand in relation to armament, and the different geostrategic situations of the member States.

In addition to this first problem, the overall defence-related insufficiencies of the members of the Union, there is a second, no less important problem, related to the differences in the size, extent, quantity and quality of the defence systems of the member States. This makes it even more difficult to get an authentic process of convergence under way. Establishing objective criteria for military convergence equivalent to those that have served to arrive at the Euro in the field of economy is enormously complex, precisely because of these profound differences between the States. For example, the defence budgets of the 15 countries belonging to the Union range from the 1% of GNP of Ireland to the 4.6% spent by Greece. Military costs per inhabitant range from $708 in France to $196 in Spain. The number of military personnel relative to the overall population amounts to 15.9 in Greece, but only to 3.6% in Great Britain. The percentage of the overall defence budget that is spent on equipment acquisition in the countries of the WEU, with the exception of Luxembourg, ranges from 5% in Belgium to 26% in Great Britain. As pointed out, on the one hand this implies an added difficulty for the establishment of criteria of convergence acceptable to all the countries. Furthermore, on the other hand, it would require a fairly long period of transition for such convergence to become effective, and this would never be complete because the specific defence needs of each State and their very geostrategic situations so dictate. Let us think, for example, of the cases of Finland and Greece, which for obvious historical and geographic reasons continue to attach to territorial defence an importance that is not shared by the other Union member States.

The differences referred to above have led certain analysts to the conclusion that it is unrealistic to think that all the countries can move forward together and at the same pace in the process of military convergence, and some such analysts are proposing the idea of 'reinforced cooperation', initially excluded in relation to the so-called 'second pillar'. This would imply the existence of a driving group that would start the initiatives, with the rest of the countries becoming incorporated gradually and as available to do so.

The question of equipment is of the greatest importance, and cannot be addressed realistically unless we accept that Europe suffers a serious technological lag in comparison with the United States. This situation has a particularly crushing impact on the defence industry and the policy of procurement. There is a need to progress in the design and performance of joint programs involving various countries and to create institutions or extend those already in existence, such as the Common Organisation for Cooperation in Armament (OCCAR). In doing this, consideration should be given to the interest of all the countries, such that none is condemned to being merely the purchaser of what others produce. Above all else, however, there is a need to face the challenge of budgeting. We should not forget that overall the countries of the WEU dedicate to equipment acquisition a mere 40% of what is invested by the United States, and spend four times less on military research and development.

In this respect, there is now an urgent need for the European Union to get certain programmes under way, such as those referring to intelligence, command, communications and control systems and strategic air transport. During the early months of this year, for example, the seven countries that have initiated the A400M heavy military transport project will have to reach their final decisions and, from both a European and a strictly Spanish viewpoint, it would be a very good thing if Europe were to repeat in the military area the success that the Airbus has represented in civil aviation. The A400M might be a good test of the political will regarding common defence that has been expressed from Cologne to Helsinki, and might imply the step 'from the drawing board to worldly realities'.

In general, this year and the two presidencies of the European Union, Portuguese during the first half of 2000 and French in the second, will be decisive in the area of common European defence. During the early part of the year, the delicate problem of relations with NATO is to be studied. The basis for this is the idea that the aim is not to build something outside and beyond what already exists, but to apply the doctrine drawn up in Berlin in 1996, of 'separable but not separate forces'. The aim is also to reach agreements allowing Europe to use NATO resources during the period - which will not be a short one - in which the Union does not yet have sufficient resources of its own. It will also be necessary to dispel the suspicions perceived in certain sectors of our great North American ally, showing them that the transatlantic link continues to be an essential element of the defence and security of the European continent, and that common European defence, far from weakening the Atlantic Alliance will in fact serve to strengthen it. Other problems, such as the existence in Europe of neutral countries or, as regards relations between the European Union and NATO, the presence in the latter of countries that are not members of the former, would not appear to be unsurpassable.

During this year it will also be necessary to set up the defence-related institutions to which we have referred above, and to find a solution to the far from simple problems involved in definitively integrating the WEU into the institutional architecture of the European Union. In this case also, the lack of symmetry between the two organisations - not all the members of one are also members of the other - will need to be addressed with the greatest tact. The appointment as Secretary General of the WEU, while it continues to exist separately, of Javier Solana, the High Representative for Foreign Common and Security Policy will undoubtedly facilitate this integration, which is destined to become the key factor for common European defence.

V. Spain in European defence

Spain meets this exciting challenge under exceptionally favourable conditions, thanks to the efforts made to date and to its keen intention to become one of the group of countries leading this process. Just a few months ago, in this same hall, during a speech to the new University College of the Armed Forces belonging to this Centre, the President of the Government, José María Aznar, expressed his intention that Spain should not lag behind in this initiative. As he stated, 'Spain should join this new stage of European construction without reserve or complexes. I feel sure that we can successfully contribute to the initiative with our ideas and become a co-leader in the common effort of building a defence for the Union'.

Indeed, building on what had been done before, this recently terminated legislature has seen intense work that places us in a good position to 'become a co-leader in the common effort', as the President foresaw. The full professionalisation of our Armed Forces is now under way, and the schedule mapped out is being satisfactorily adhered to. Now at the equator of this process of transition, more than half our soldiers and sailors are now professionals, and we shall finish this year with no fewer than 85,000 professionals. From the very beginning it was recognised that this transition towards professional Armed Forces implied also a simultaneous process of modernisation, and our three major arms programmes (Eurofighter, F100 frigates and Leopard tanks) are the result of this philosophy. Also, and albeit modestly - anything else would be unimaginable in a climate of austerity - our Defence budget has increased in order to be able to meet this dual challenge.

At the same time, the Spanish defence industry has become aware of the new demands, conscious of the fact that we are living in an era of major mergers that are not limited to politics but also, obviously, effect economy and industry. European defence requires that there be a European industrial base, and the presence of CASA in the far-reaching agreement to establish a European aeronautics industry, with its German and French partners DASA and Matra-Aerospatiale, is simply a sign of the new times.

The presence of our Armed Forces in multinational groups such as Eurocorps, Eurofor and Euromarfor has increased the international experience and the skills of the Spanish military, as has the brilliant participation of our soldiers in peacekeeping and humanitarian aid operations in Africa, Central America, Kurdistan, Bosnia, Albania and Kosovo. Of maximum usefulness also is the experience acquired within the framework of the Atlantic Alliance. Although not new, this has taken on new strength since Spain's full integration into the NATO command system, agreed on at the Madrid 'summit' in 1997, and manifested through the activation of the South-Western Sub-regional Command.

With the recovery of democracy, Spain has put an end to two centuries of isolation and absence on the international scenarios. It has once again made its presence felt in Europe and in the world, and is close to recovering its former weight and influence, since this Spain of freedom and democracy is no longer content simply to be present, but aspires to having its voice heard and to contributing through its efforts to the benefit of Europe overall. The role played in this process by our Armed Forces has been a decisive one, because there can be no foreign policy without a corresponding policy of defence and without suitable military backing. The Armed Forces are the pivot in the balance between war and peace that the world has been faced with over the centuries. They are necessary for that last resort that is armed confrontation, a resort that we should like to see removed for ever, but they are also necessary, and indeed essential, as a guarantee of peace, stability and collective security.

It would be tremendously ingenuous of us not to recognise that, despite the great progress made, much still remains to be done. It is vitally important that all the members of the public are aware of and involved in this initiative, which is not exclusively the terrain of the Armed Forces. For this reason, it is necessary for the culture of defence to be promoted and developed and that the Spanish people clearly perceive the role of defence in our daily life. Special thanks are due in this respect to the Minister of Defence, Eduardo Serra, who has insisted on this point since his first appearance before Parliament. Just a few weeks ago, in the presence of His Majesty the King, he said: '... it is essential that Spanish society be aware of Spain's steadily growing presence in the world. Spain is today, and probable never should have ceased to be, one of the major European countries, not only because of the strength of our economy, but also because of the country's incomparable cultural influence. We are convinced', the Minister concluded, 'that as the value of the Spanish people becomes a part of the general awareness, there will be a spontaneous, better and wider awareness of defence, of the need to defend ourselves and what is ours, and also of the need to propagate the culture and values in which we fervently believe'.

Little remains to be added to such a suggestive programme. Defence is not simply a circumstantially more or less important activity of the State, but rather is part of the mark of identity of any group, possible because, as has been said, 'being is defending oneself'. When awareness of defence is lost or becomes weakened, one is in danger of treading the stony path to alienation. This may in fact explain our history during so many decades of the 19th and 20th centuries.

But let us go back to the beginning. Spain has fully backed the great initiative of European unity, on the basis of wide national consensus, and from the start this initiative has intuitively been seen by the Spanish people as the undeniable international dimension of our own great adventure towards democracy. Now, that European enterprise to which we have contributed so much and which in turn has provided us with so much benefit, is living the hour of common defence. Neither can we remain on the sidelines at such a moment. Our effort is expected, and it is not necessary for anybody to remind us, since Spain's intention not to be left behind is patently obvious. This may be one of the great challenges of the immediate future, of the 21st century at whose gates we now stand.

Thank you very much.

(*) Alejandro Muñoz-Alonso, Presidente Comisión de Defensa, Congreso de los Diputados