European Union leaders were set on Friday to adopt goals on expanding military capabilities to respond to crises, even after failing to meet a UN plea for an emergency force for Congo.
A draft statement from a Brussels summit repeated a goal of being able to deploy a force of 60,000 to a major crisis within 60 days. The bloc should also be able to plan and conduct more than 20 missions simultaneously, including stabilisation and reconstruction and rapid response operations, it said.
However, the timeframe for the 60,000-strong force first mooted in 1999, which has slipped from 2003 to 2010, is now stated vaguely as "in the years ahead".
The EU is hopes to become a global player in the foreign and security sphere, but the aim has been hobbled by an inability to present a united political response, and shortfalls in equipment and interoperability that the draft says must be corrected.
On Thursday, EU foreign ministers were unable to agree on a response to a request by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for a "bridging force" to help a 17,000-strong U.N. mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo known by the French acronym MONUC.
EU diplomats said those who want the force were dealt a blow when EU Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Louis Michel told the meeting that an EU force was not needed.
Karel De Gucht, foreign minister of Belgium, the former colonial power in Congo and an advocate of EU intervention, told reporters: "Everybody agrees there is a serious problem but political will and means have not been deployed to try to find a solution."
"Its about moral responsibility, it bothers me that the biggest economic power in the world does not succeed in alleviating human suffering, it bothers me fundamentally as a human being."
He said he disagreed with Michel -- also Belgian -- that the problem could be resolved through political dialogue.
"I don't share this view because it means putting all your hopes in the protagonists ... it's the wrong assessment."
He and others ministers questioned why the deployment should be a problem when the European Union had fast response battle groups on standby -- one led by Britain, the other by Germany.
"What I find strange is that a couple of these battle groups only exist on paper and not in reality," de Gucht said. "The UK says 'we don't have troops', but they are leading the battle group, so who is leading these battle groups then?"
On Thursday, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said the Congo issue was a test of the battle group concept.
"If it is worth anything it could be used; if it can't be used we have to question the concept of it," he said.
Britain has repeated its position favouring strengthening the existing U.N. force in Congo rather than a separate one.
"A single chain of command is always important," Foreign Secretary David Miliband told Reuters on Thursday. "EU members can contribute to MONUC and that's the first port of call."