London (CNSNews.com) - European Union plans to establish a rapid reaction force outside of NATO continue to run into opposition from Turkey, prompting EU warnings that Turkey could be risking its own chances of future EU membership.
Turkey, a member of NATO, is concerned that NATO assets may be used in "Euro Army" operations that run counter to its interests.
The EU has now warned that it will not allow Turkey to hold up the process of setting up the force, which it wants to see in place by 2003.
"The foreign and security policy of the European Union cannot be dependent on an outside country," said Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel after an EU meeting.
"We hope Turkey will understand that the European Union will not give in to such pressure," he added. Belgium currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU.
The EU and NATO have agreed that the 60,000-strong rapid reaction force will have access to NATO military facilities when it mounts peacekeeping or other operations in which NATO chooses not to be involved.
But although Ankara agrees with the proposal, it wants to have a say in EU force decision-making, arguing that the force may sometimes be used in operations that go against Turkey's interests - for instance on divided Cyprus, where Turkey backs an breakaway republic in the north of the Mediterranean island.
Many critics of the "Euro Army" proposal, particularly conservatives in Britain and the U.S., fear it may undermine NATO's position as the cornerstone of western defense.
Wide differences have also emerged between EU member states about the degree to which EU military planning will take place within NATO.
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair assured President Bush during their first meeting earlier this year that Washington had no reason to fear the EU plan.
On the basis of Blair's assurances that EU military planning would take place within NATO, Bush gave the initiative his support. Not long afterwards, however, senior French military officers made it clear the rapid reaction force would be independent of NATO.
Turkey hopes to begin accession talks aimed at eventually joining the EU, but amid European concerns about human rights, economic and other issues - including the unresolved Cyprus question -the process has yet to start.
EU officials have warned that failure to break the impasse over the NATO-Euro Army issue could jeopardize Turkey's chances ever to join the 15-nation bloc.
Top British, French Military Officers Slam Euro Army Plan (June 12, 2001)