The European Union says it has agreed to establish a multinational peacekeeping force for Afghanistan in which every one of its 15 members could take part. The decision came on the first day of a two day EU summit that is also expected to launch a series of institutional reforms to accommodate up to ten new member countries in the years ahead.
It was expected that major European countries, like Britain, France and Germany, would contribute to a peacekeeping force for Afghanistan. But Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency, says participation in that stabilization force will be much wider than expected and that it could include all of the bloc's 15 member nations.
That was confirmed by EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who says he is awaiting a decision by the United Nations Security Council to give the EU force a mandate.
"That decision will imply several things, one of them the deployment of a security force. That security force will be led probably, very likely, by a European country, and, very likely, the United Kingdom. And the rest of the countries of the European Union are ready to participate in that multinational force. That is what is going to take place, probably," Mr. Solana said.
Belgian Foreign Minister Michel says the creation of the force is an example of the EU seizing an opportunity and doing something unprecedented. He says never before have all 15 EU nations cooperated in a military venture of this type. But EU diplomats say the force is also likely to include non-EU countries like Turkey and Jordan.
Despite Mr. Michel's enthusiasm about EU cooperation in setting up the 3,000 thousand to 4,000 man peacekeeping force, there are still questions to be resolved, such as how many troops each country is prepared to contribute and which tasks they will undertake.
The main goal of the summit is to create a convention that will spend a year plotting out the EU's future as it moves to incorporate new members, mainly from Eastern Europe. Some countries, like Germany and Italy, seek to create strong federal EU institutions, with a directly elected president, a constitution and a bill of rights.
Others, like Britain and France, believe ultimate power should reside with individual nation states. But all agree that the EU must become more efficient and transparent as it expands.
Meanwhile, the first incident of violence on the fringes of the summit occurred when masked protesters broke away from the main body of a peaceful anti-globalization demonstration and smashed windows at a bank near the summit site. Police did not intervene.