FRANCE is leading a drive to create a Brussels military headquarters that would build on existing EU missions.
Ms Ashton has signalled to Paris that she will go against British opposition if France can win other allies this winter, a senior French defence ministry source has revealed.
Her support comes before a meeting of ministers from the 'Big Five' (France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Poland) in Paris on Wednesday to discuss driving "European defence" forward.
France seeks to use the launch of new EU military missions to establish a European military headquarters and will mount an offensive in mid-2014 that could see it back treaty-change to scrap national vetoes over defence.
This prompted the Big Five to seek ways of bypassing a British veto via a little-known legal mechanism. France eventually backed down so as not to jeopardise its Lancaster House bilateral defence accord with Britain.
Now, France will seek to use EU military missions -- such as one in Mali it hopes will be launched in January -- to build an OHQ.
"The European project has often been limited to paper and documents. We prefer to do concrete things and, bolstered by these first results, we can then formalise a European security concept and an OHQ. There will be political will for (military) operations, and for that we will need institutions," said the source.
"We received a very favourable response from Madame Ashton. Lots of people say she isn't interested in France's position. What she told us is that she's not in a position to take the initiative, which I understand."
MEP Geoffrey Van Orden, Conservative spokesman on European defence and security policy, warned that France was pushing Britain down a "slippery slope" to a European army.
"It is naive for us to imagine that we can have an intense bilateral defence relationship with France without being drawn into that country's wider ambition to create EU military capabilities," he said.
A spokesman for Lady Ashton said: "Conduct and planning are of crucial importance to any deployment whether this be of a civilian or military nature. This matter requires unanimous consent of all member states." (© Daily Telegraph, London)