Germany, France, Spain to boost EU military reach.

France, Germany and Spain were to sign an accord yesterday forming a rapid reaction battlegroup, one of a dozen that will enable the European Union to deploy peacekeepers to trouble-spots anywhere in the world.

The battlegroups, each comprising 1,500 soldiers, able to deploy within 10 days, are key to EU efforts to intervene in military crises.

The French-German-Spanish deal was to be signed by senior defense officials from the three nations on the sidelines of a meeting of EU foreign ministers. France and Britain, the EU's major military powers, first suggested the battlegroup plan in early 2004.

Although the battlegroups were conceived with African crises in mind, EU military officials say they would be able to operate in other areas and on all types of terrain.

Twenty-one of the 25 EU nations have offered soldiers for the units. Norway, which is not in the EU, has also said it wants to join a battlegroup with its Nordic neighbors Sweden and Finland.

The EU battlegroups will work closely with NATO to coordinate their development with the Atlantic alliance's own rapid response force.

To strengthen the deployment of the battlegroups, the EU nations have also agreed to coordinate their air, sea and land transport resources.

[Source: Associated Press, Madrid, 24May05]

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