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European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini arrives for a meeting of European Union defence ministers at the EU Council in Brussels, Belgium May 18, 2017. REUTERS/Eric Vidal


BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union approved a new military command centre for foreign training missions on Thursday after Britain dropped its opposition, the latest step in EU efforts to integrate its militaries and defence industries.

A day after the European Commission offered 1.5 billion euros ($1.68 billion) a year in support of Franco-German plans for greater EU defence cooperation, all 28 EU governments agreed for the command centre in Brussels to run training missions in Somalia, the Central African Republic and Mali.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement the decision was "a very important operational decision to strengthen European defence".

Britain, still a member of the European Union until it leaves in 2019, resisted the creation of the command centre because London has long feared what it sees as the creation of an EU army that would weaken national sovereignty.

But less than two weeks before Britain is set to start its EU exit negotiations, London agreed to the so-called Military Planning and Conduct Capability on the basis it was not called a military headquarters.

Britain also insisted on legal language in the final EU documents that London felt limited the scope of the command centre. The European Union denies any plans for an EU army of soldiers wearing the same uniforms.

France and Germany say Europe needs better coordination and pooling of resources after spending cuts that have left depleted national forces too reliant on the United States at a time of rising threats from Islamist militants and Russia.

France, Italy and Germany, which strongly back the command centre, say that while it only has 25 staff and three missions, it should eventually be allowed to develop into a bigger headquarters to better coordinate European missions.

The European Union has 15 military missions abroad, which are run out of separate headquarters. The bloc has said it is not seeking to rival NATO's headquarters in Mons, Belgium.

($1 = 0.8910 euros)

(Reporting by Robin Emmott; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

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