Six EU nations vow closer defence ties to offset crisis

European Union heavyweights Germany and France, along with four ex-communist members of the 27-member bloc, vowed Wednesday to cooperate more closely on defence to offset the impact of tough economic times.

"The ongoing global financial crisis is persisting and due to its negative impact on defence spending we have to concentrate on reinforcing multinational defence cooperation," said a joint statement issued at a summit in Warsaw by the German, French, Czech, Hungarian, Polish and Slovak defence ministers.

Britain, long a pillar of EU defence, did not attend the largely symbolic summit, which also drew German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande to plot closer European defence cooperation.

"NATO and the EU must cooperate closely, to achieve mutual reinforcement on initiatives while concentrating on developing the necessary capacities without unnecessarily doubling up efforts," the statement said.

"We want to support European defence capacities, joint security and defence, as well as to reinforce NATO," it added.

The ministers also said they would use existing regional groupings, namely the Weimar Triangle including Germany, France and Poland, along with the Visegrad Group comprising Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia.

Visegrad defence ministers meeting in Warsaw earlier Wednesday and all representing both EU and NATO states inked a letter of intent on setting up an EU battle group to focus on peacekeeping, conflict prevention and other crisis management operations by 2016.

The unit is to comprise between 2,000 and 3,000 troops, including 1,000 Poles, mostly infantry and combat support which could be deployed in areas up to 6,000 kilometres (3,700 miles) away from Brussels by the European Council.