Cook Says Kosovo Made Case for European Army ; DEFENCE

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ROBIN COOK prepared the ground for closer European integration of defence yesterday, stressing the need for improved "rapid, flexible and mobile capacity" among member states.

The Foreign Secretary stressed that the Kosovo crisis had shown that Britain could make a "leading contribution" on the basis of building "new partnerships".

He told MPs during resumed debate on the Queen's Speech: "We must absorb the lessons of Kosovo and ensure that European armed forces have the rapid, flexible and mobile capacity necessary for crisis intervention.

"The European members of Nato should have the capacity to conduct crisis management where the Alliance as a whole is not engaged. And an increased capacity to contribute by Europe will be welcomed by America."

Mr Cook's remarks came as large gaps in Europe's defence capability were due to be exposed in a Western European Union audit report tomorrow.

The report, which could lead to demands for a big increase in European Union (EU) defence spending, will show that Europe needs more aircraft carriers and "heavy lift" freight planes to fulfil long-term plans for a European defence arm to carry out a policing role beyond its borders.

British defence ministers will today outlineplans to build a new aircraft carrier in Britain and the RAF is planning for new heavy lift aircraft.

The development of a European defence arm will move a step further with a meeting at Downing Street on Thursday of Tony Blair and Lionel Jospin, the French Prime Minister.

The EU Helsinki summit next month is expected to set up a new EU defence committee to oversee defence co-operation in Europe. …