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21 May, 1998
The Western European Union (WEU) is today being called on to fill the security vacuum created in Europe after the Cold War and must evolve into united Europe's defence arm, National Defence Minister Akis Tsohatzopoulos told th e organisation's parliamentary assembly here yesterday.
Mr. Tsohatzopoulos was speaking on the achievements of Greece's six-month presidency of the WEU.
Greece's post as president ends in June.
The WEU must develop on two levels, Mr. Tsohatzopoulos said. One must move in the direction of it becoming the European pole for NATO and the other must move towards developing into the defence arm of the European Union. The course towards economic and monetary union must run tandem to political union because economic power without the security of a high-level of security is moot, Mr. Tsohatzopoulos said.
The WEU must capitalise on NATO's infrastructure to ensure it operates appropriately, the defence minister said. For this reason, the Greek presidency pursued and promoted cooperation with NATO, firm in the belief that this would bolster Europe's defence capability of the WEU by providing complementary resources and facilities for those crisis management and peace-keeping missions the European Union would assign to the WEU.
"A conflict between the Atlantic and Europe is a false dilemma resolved by the simultaneous development and cooperation between the WEU and NATO," Mr. Tsohatzopoulos said.
The defence vacuum created in the wake of the collapse of Communism is most acute in the Balkan peninsula, Mr. Tsohatzopoulos said. "There it has taken on the form of successive crises in the former Yugoslavia, Albania and now Kosovo . "The case of Albania forced us to realise the need for the existence of an appropriate European security mechanism which could act quickly and effectively to deal with such situations and prevent an escalation," Mr. Tsohatzopoulos said. "It was during the Albanian case that the WEU failed to offer an immediate and credible response, although it was a unique opportunity for it to act."
Mr. Tsohatzopoulos said there were three conditions that had to be met if the WEU were to play the role of a European defence mechanism: the forging of a joint European defence policy as an integral element of joint EU foreign and security policy; the d evelopment of operational capability to give the EU a security dimension and the ability to act; and the development of a joint European policy on armaments to merge national programmes with European procurements programmes so that all countries would be able to participate on an equal basis.
"The major issue is whether there is the political will to create a real joint foreign and security policy in the European Union," Mr. Tsohatzopoulos said.
He said that at this month's meeting of WEU defence and foreign ministers on Rhodes, he had noted the need for the existence of a joint defence policy which would combine separate national goals into joint strategies and targets.
"The Greek presidency contributed decisively to developing the WEU and to the creation of the right bases for the development of the organisation's operational abilities while Greece's pragmatism in dealing with the issue of relations between the WEU and NATO resulted in upgraded and improved relations," Manuel de Puig, the president of the assembly said. Mr. de Puig also warmly praised Mr. Tsohatzopoulos on the "parti-cularly positive role" he had personally played during the Greek six-month presidency.
Responding to WEU deputies' questions on the problem in Cyprus, Mr. Tsohatzopoulos said that Cyprus' accession to the European Union would create greater security for both the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot communities and foster a resolution of the di vision of the island republic.
"Unfortunately, the Turkish side's response to date does not indicate such a resolution," he said, adding that a demand by Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash for the recognition of his regime was not acceptable.
He added that the demilitarisation of Cyprus would be a "step in the right direction" but that there were indications that the occupying forces on the island were headed in the other direction.
"The Cyprus issue is an international problem, the problem of the occupation of a country by a foreign military power. The resolution of the problem must come from international organisations and from their activity," he said.
Source: Athens News Agency